The Philadelphia 76ers are supposed to be terrible this year — potentially historically, comically terrible. And more likely than not, they will be. In fact, it would surprise exactly no one if the Sixers lose badly tonight against the Washington Wizards.
But for one night, the Sixers were incredibly fun to watch, toppling the defending NBA champion Miami Heat 114-110, albeit without starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade.
Yes, it’s true that Miami was sans Wade and playing the second of a back-to-back after opening the season Tuesday night by easily taking care of the Chicago Bulls. And yes, it really did look like the majority of the Heat were disinterested and sluggish at the start. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Sixers were flat-out fun to watch in their season debut.
The Wells Fargo Center was something Wednesday night that it wasn’t all of last season — electric. The fans were amped from a late-afternoon press conference from Allen Iverson, in which he officially, officially announced his retirement. Iverson had a remarkably thoughtful, insightful and flat-out emotional presser, exuding his love for the place where he became a man. And adding to the atmosphere was the presence of Sixers greats and Iverson teammates — Dr. J, Moses, Charles, Billy Cunningham, World B. Free, Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie — along with John Thompson, Pat Croce and more. Then, of course, the presence of LeBron James and the defending champs always brings about excitement.
The Sixers could feel that electricity. They jumped out to a 19-0 lead, getting it all the way to 22 points before the Heat battled back. But the Sixers held on for the victory, and they did it behind the newest, youngest player on the active roster, Michael Carter-Williams.
As Iverson exited stage left, Carter-Williams took the stage in grand fashion, and he did it right from the jump. The first possession of the game, the rookie point guard out of Syrcause snatched a steal and went coast-to-coast with an emphatic slam. It was incredibly reminiscent of a rookie Allen Iverson, who routinely jumped the passing lane for a steal and took it all the way for a score. I know I was stunned in amazement as Carter-Williams threw it down coming right at me.
And that was only the beginning for the man dubbed MCW. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Carter-Williams had one of the greatest NBA debuts in history, nearly notching a triple-double and even flirting with a quadruple-double. The kid set an NBA record for steals in a career debut with nine to go along with 22 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. To make those numbers even more impressive, MCW did it about as efficiently as you can, shooting 6-10 from the field and a remarkable 4-6 from three — from a guy who’s biggest knock was his lack of a jump shot — while turning the ball over just once.
The fans ate it up. As Iverson watched on, Carter-Williams gave forth a performance that harkened back to A.I.’s electric days.
Chances are, Carter-Williams will struggle quite a bit this season. His shot will be off. He’ll turn the ball over. And his stat-stuffing start won’t always look so pristine. But for one night — his first night — Michael Carter-Williams showed exactly why the Sixers were willing to trade their young, all-star point guard and take a gamble on Carter-Williams and the injured Nerlens Noel. For one night, the Sixers weren’t’ in tank mode. And for one night, with the man in the building himself, Michael Carter-Williams brought the type of excitement to the Wells Fargo Center that hasn’t been seen all that much since the glory days of Allen Iverson.
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