A Winning Tribute
Given the circumstances - a still raw, hard-to-grasp reality - getting back to the business of basketball was a delicate task.
But it was time to play the next game on the schedule, and so behind a somber backdrop at The Center, the 76ers soldiered on.
The good news was this:
Joel Embiid was back, playing for the first time since a Jan. 6 left hand injury caused him to miss the next nine games.
The Sixers had posted six wins in their last seven contests without the All-Star, and against the Golden State Warriors, they racked up another, 115-104.
Embiid, who wore a medical apparatus on his left hand, looked pretty good, all things considered. Incredibly, while also wearing the no. 24, he finished with 24 points, plus 10 rebounds, in 26 minutes.
The big story in South Philadelphia on Tuesday, however, was that the NBA franchise hailing from Kobe Bryant's backyard was making its first appearance at home since the five-time champion died Sunday in a helicopter accident.
From affixing a Maroon and White no. 33 decal to the center court sideline, to a 10-minute pregame ceremony featuring nine spotlights and nine bell rings, the Sixers tastefully paid tribute to the former Lower Merion High School star and the eight other people who lost their lives in the Southern California crash.
The pregame atmosphere inside the arena was staid, respectful, and reflective. All Sixers players either wore nos. 8 or 24 - Bryant's old numbers - during pre-game warm-ups, and during the commemorative proceedings that followed.
There were no pregame introductions over the PA system, or hype music played in the minutes leading up to tip-off. The Sixers and Golden State took eight and 24-second clock violations, respectively.
From there, though, there was still a game to be played, and a game to win. Winning, Brett Brown said during his pregame press conference, would be the best tribute the Sixers could collectively offer Bryant, whom many on the roster considered a hero.
That Tuesday's game got off to a relatively choppy start wasn't entirely surprising, given all the emotion in the building. The Sixers trailed 27-26 after the first quarter before getting rolling in the second en route to a 59-54 halftime lead.
Golden State briefly held a two-point advantage in the third period, but the Sixers didn't mess around down the stretch, ripping off a 9-0 run to open the final frame to seize control.
Al Horford flirted with the third triple-double of his career (12 pts, 11 reb, 8 ast), while Raul Neto provided a big lift off the bench. He scored 15 of his season-high 19 points in the second quarter, playing all 12 minutes.
Ben Simmons added 17 points behind a 9-for-10 effort from the line. Shake Milton, in his second straight start, tallied a season-best 11 points.
Click here for a complete box score.
A legend lost too soon was worthy of a fitting tribute, and a fitting tribute was what he got.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 28, 2020
The 76ers will open a four-game road trip Thursday at Atlanta, before visiting three of the four teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings (Boston, Miami, and Milwaukee).