Are We Ready to Watch the Sixers Win This Ugly All Season?
It was pretty trying at times, admit it.
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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Man, if you told me at the end of last season that the next time the Sixers would take the court, they’d beat the Celtics by 14 on opening night -- comfortably enough that the game would close with Raul Neto and Shake Milton on the floor as our back court -- I’d assume that by the end of the game, I’d have just kind of levitated to the top of the Wells Fargo Center.
And that’s kinda what happened -- in large part because I was already sitting so goddamn high in the packed house at the WFC that I didn’t have that far to float. But I can’t say it quite felt like I expected it to. It was less of a chest-puffing, THAT’S RIGHT, shove anyone wearing an Eagles sweatshirt into the wall because it’s still green and better safe than sorry sort of win, than a dozed off in the third quarter, woke up to Brett Brown’s post-game interview kind of “Oh, cool, I guess we won” kind of win. It was a little too frazzled, a little too emotionally confusing, and a little too exhausting.
Mostly, it was just ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Bubba Sparxxx ugly. Vincent Schiavelli in Ghost ugly. No alibis whatsoever ugly. Choppy, physical, graceless and sharply angled. There were two turnovers and four fouls committed on every possession. Gabe Kapler showed up from beyond the grave to call for five separate trips to the bullpen in the second half. I never actually watched the ‘90s Knicks, but from all the stories from the veteran survivors of the era, this is what I sort of pictured their games looking like, before correcting myself to go “OK, it probably wasn’t actually quite like that.” How either team got to 100 points is a miracle of modern science.
We’d been so preoccupied with the Sixers’ physical attractiveness this offseason -- trying to book Crest commercials for Mathisse Thybulle and yelling at Al Horford to drop the skin care routine -- that we’d never really considered how visually odious their style of play might end up. The preseason might have shown it if we didn’t spend the entire time playing Quad A clubs, or maybe if we were actually able to see the game in Orlando, and we maybe got a hint of it with a couple of the tough team nights from three. But we certainly got to see it on full display last night, when the Sixers came less than two minutes away from going the entire first quarter without hitting a single jumper. At one point I was thinking about what an awesome game Thybulle was having, and I looked up at his stat line and it said 0 - 1 - 0. It was a lot of that.
Which isn’t to say that I expected these Sixers to be the D’Antoni Suns, or that the last few years’ Celtics-Sixers contests were gorgeous orchestrations that ebbed and flowed like a Frank Ocean album. But while the Sixers have played tough, bully ball-leaning hoops before, I can’t remember it ever looking quite like this. Maybe the refs are to blame for being so overzealous testing out their new whistles, and maybe the Sixers and Celtics are always so raring to mash on each other at the beginning of the year that they shouldn’t be allowed to play one another until they have a couple weeks of regular-season drudgery to cool them down first. But maybe, this is just who our team is.
And of course, this is at least partly by design. We let both our best shooter and our best shot-getter go this offseason, in exchange for having our starting lineup go full Macro Zone with a team built in Elton Brand’s beefy image. When our first two buckets on the game came with two of our tallies lobbing it into one another for dunks, it seemed like maybe that should be the play Brett Brown calls in every time out: Just chuck it deep into the end zone and let our team of 6’11” wide receivers jump for it. It’s a very Kentucky kind of strategy, where John Calipari always seems to have seven future-first-rounder undergrad supermen but zero reliable shotmakers, and he builds his entire strategy around just getting the ball in the general vicinity of the rim and assuming they’ll figure out the rest once it’s there. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of defense and free throws, defense and free throws.
And while it’s exciting to picture these DAFT Sixers sucking the life force out of a wide variety of underqualified Eastern Conference opponents, it’s going to be an adjustment watching this kind of basketball all season. While the rest of the league continues to swell outward into squads that hit 15 threes every game and have players who were competing for a roster spot over the summer suddenly averaging 22 a night, we’ll flip back to Philly winning quarters 23-17 and having all five starters averaging between 15 and 18 PPG. Watching the Sixers live this season might feel like going to the Hella Mega tour next summer -- fun, though hard to shake the feeling like it’s a little anachronistic to still be watching this in 2020.
But of course Process Trusters have had to build pride and identity out of far less. We’ve rooted for teams that on a good night were probably still more offensively inept than the Sixers were last night, and hardly because the team was seeking a competitive advantage by investing in other facets of the game. (Unless draft futures count, anyway.) And I certainly think we’ll be able to find our way into appreciating having the team that everyone else groans to see coming up on their schedule, the team that the rest of Basketball Twitter turns against, the team that nobody believes has enough offense to win, but that no one can actually seem to beat. Hell, maybe we’ll actually agree with Charles Barkley on something for once.
Or maybe we’ll beat the Pistons by 50, Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris will shoot a combined 13-18 from deep, and the Sixers will turn out to be exemplars of the Beautiful Game after all. But for now, at least, it looks like the Sixers’ Eastern Conference revenge tour will be one where punishment and justice are meted out via offensive rebounds, marches to the free throw line, and sheer spiritual exhaustion. Don’t get mad, get ugly.