As you may have been able to tell, I finally attended my first Sixers game of the season on Friday. What follows is in part a review of the game itself and my experience as a fan. I’ll jump back and forth between thoughts on the game night experience and the game itself.
I was one of those people who showed up late for the game. It wasn’t intentional; I had to drive from work in New Jersey back home in the furthest possible section of Philadelphia from the Sports Complex and to the stadium on a Friday night at 5:40. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t an easy commute. With traffic going into the city on a typical Friday and emerging engine troubles, I arrived with my brother (who bought me the tickets for Christmas) around 7:15.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that there were indeed a lot of people there. You can assign parts of that to the Sixers being a good, fun to watch team or the allure of Lob City, but no matter the cause people were there. That’s a good thing. And 99% were there to root for the home team. A large crowd overwhelmingly favoring the home team was something I had not been a part of for three years. I like the feeling. That was nothing other than having a good team could fix, and for now the problem has been solved.
So anyway, we get to the stadium and, seeing that my brother is a college student and has to conserve his money, we must ascend the escalator to the upper deck. The first problem I notice is during the ascension: there are no television screens within sight of the escalators, in either direction. While it might not be the popular thing to do, with the amount of people who were arriving when we did adding a television for people on the escalator to watch the game (since it’s like a 90 second escalator) would probably be a good idea. Unless it’s a safety hazard, I don’t see the downside in this.
By the time we get to our seats, the first media timeout occurred, and the Sixers are up. Not a bad start, even if I could not see what happened to cause it. Our seats were in section 213, row 8 – the lowest seats in the upper section of the upper deck. For $25 a seat, you could do worse. Like when I spent $25 for food and drinks at the concession stands. I’m digressing, but the seats for the price were good. We got a sideline view from high up, but there was nothing on the court we couldn’t see except when people were walking by, since we had the two end seats.
The Sixers got off to a fast start by executing the offense well and hitting their shots, it seems. Then in the second quarter, the shots stopped falling and the Sixers began to lose their hold on the game. Chris Paul worked the court like a magician – even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, it seems as if he has control of the game. Every time it seemed that Holiday or someone forced a turnover, he retained possession for his team. He never seemed rushed – even with the seconds on the shot clock dwindling, you got the feeling that CP3 knew exactly what he was doing and knew exactly how much time he had left and knew exactly how the possession would end. Everything about the Clippers’ offense is dictated by Paul’s delicate control of the team, and it was quite fun to watch.
Granted, by holding the Clippers to 78 points the Sixers defense did a terrific job. The Clippers, like the Sixers, missed a ton of open looks, but some were by design for the defense. Randy Foye isn’t exactly known for his three point shooting, you know? Mo Williams, however, did a ton of damage. While always a point guard, he fits much better when looking to score first. As he’s essentially a shooting guard for the Clips, that worked out well. Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner, and Lou Williams all struggled to contain Mo, who had 12 second quarter points. Unlike Chris Paul, he looks to score off screens and picks first, rather than make a play.
During halftime, the Sixers held a half court shot contest. I imagine they do this every game. The rules are fairly simple: a fan must make a half court shot without landing past the half court line in order to win $7676, plus other gifts for the fan and the section he or she is seated in. So of course, the contestant makes the shot, but jumps over the half court line. The crowd roared when the shot was made, and booed louder than all but one point in the night when Tom Lamaine (PA announcer) bellowed over the PA that the shot would not count because the rules of the contest were violated.
Adam Aron then stepped in and awarded the fan the prize, avoiding a decision from David Stern regarding the fairness versus correctness call. I’m not even sure the ruling was fair, as the contestant obviously violated the rules, but it’s a nice goodwill gesture by the CEO. While a somewhat dangerous precedent, the good of the call (PR) definitely outweighs the bad (the $7676+). Truly caring about the fans is important, but portraying the image of caring as often and as genuinely as possible is even more important than actually doing so.
I missed the halftime band performance because I was on a quest to find the right concession stand. From what I gathered it was entertaining, but again halftime acts are only part of the entire picture. Luckily I arrived in my seat to begin the second half. The negative of having a big crowd is that, yes, concession lines can be long at halftime.
The second half started with more of the same play on-court – the Sixers struggling to create offense , while Paul and the Clippers struggled with creating anything against the Sixers stingy defense. The Clippers did an especially good job at forcing Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen further away from the rim that they’d like to be, disrupting their sets and denying them the basketball if possible. It slowed down the offense enough to where the Sixers, who run a slow half court offense, to not complete their sets by the time the shot clock was about to expire.
By the way, the Sixers defense is fascinating to watch in person, especially from the view we had. We were so high up that we almost had an over-the-top view of the defense. The sideline views that you normally receive from broadcasts fail the capture the entire court and make it difficult to judge the far side. Everyone seems to move in unison, each knowing where he is supposed to be at all times. The rotations are almost never late. I remember back to the Eddie Jordan days, where our defensive rotations were arguably the worst in the NBA. With roughly the same roster, our defensive rotations are among the best in the league. The stats prove it: the Sixers are second in opponent’s three point percentage, under 30%, and prevent fouling, sending opponents to the free throw line at the sixth best rate. That means the Sixers force a lot of tough, low-efficiency shots.
The in-game breaks provided the second most drastic differences between the old ownership and the new (the most drastic? the on-court product, of course, even with the same cast of characters). Previously, Matt Cord seemingly dominated these breaks. The Sixers held the same features every time, usually with Cord narrating them. I had been critical of this change before – I wanted Cord’s calls of LOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU! and the repeating Dala Dala Dala back in play. But now I realize that I was wrong – Cord’s calls were still fantastic, but they do dominate the environment, and it does wear thin. While Lamaine’s calls are unenthusiastic, his voice only appears sporadically during breaks. Instead, the Sixers use the video screen much more effectively and let the Dream Team do their thing, without much interruption.
The Sixers history videos were fantastic. Captivating, even. If there’s anything I’d like to see more profiles of the players on the court. The challenge is two-fold: bringing back the fans from the olden days while also attracting newer, younger fans. These videos draw the cheers from the older generation. You need to elicit the same response from the younger crowd who never saw Iverson in his prime or weren’t born when Doug Collins played. Ask them to believe in Andre Iguodala. Or Jrue Holiday. Or Thaddeus Young. Or Evan Turner (unlike Doug Collins). Give them more to look forward to in the future. That’s what we have to look forward to, after all.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, a variation of the typical fourth quarter lineup starts the quarter. And like many recent fourth quarters, a deficit starts to build. The Lou-Meeks combo doesn’t seem to work well – they should probably change that up a bit. The Clips attack the Sixers meanwhile, with an unorthodox lineup featuring three power forwards: Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, and Blake Griffin. Somehow, despite the obvious lack of floor spacing (and for much of the quarter, the lack of Chris Paul), it worked to the Clippers’ advantage. That front court would remain in the game for most of the remainder of the game.
The Sixers eventually stormed back behind strong defense and enough offense to make up a 7 point deficit, which in a game where neither team scored 80 was actually quite a bit. Getting into the closing minutes, the question was whether the Sixers had enough defense to stop Chris Paul, who is notoriously efficient in crunch time. The offense did few favors. Missed free throws and bad sets resulted in a stalling out of sorts – they scored two points and were down one with 18 seconds left, the Clippers ready to inbound for foul shots. Then something weird happened: Ryan Gomes decided he wanted to toss the ball to the cameraman along the baseline. Before it got there, however, Lou Williams was bumped by Kenyon Martin, which resulted in two free throws. He made both, giving the Sixers the lead and the Clippers the ball. The crowd, exhausted from groaning after missed free throws, let out an audible sigh of relief along with copious applause after the shots went in.
Then, Chris Paul was getting the ball. Again.
During the last few timeouts, the Sixers played clips (pun intended) from movies that were supposed to be inspirational, like Rudy and 300 and, of course, Rocky. These apparently worked, though I’m not sure if the crowd really needed them. You could have played the FOX NFL injury music and the fans would have been pumped.
Finally, the Clips get the ball with 18 seconds left (again), this time down 1. Paul gets the ball, Iguodala is on him defensively. And we all know what happens there. The fans were shocked. But then again, we got another chance. So all hope was not lost. The question was, with more than 3 seconds left, what kind of look would the Sixers get?
The answer: another dribble into the corner for no reason attempt for Lou Williams, which had no shot of falling. The fans were, predictably, frustrated with the final possessions. Lots of expletives and confused expressions followed. From our view it looked like, again, that the play was designed to get Lou a 30 footer. Which is understandable if only a second remains. 3.1 seconds allows enough time for at least 2 dribbles and a shot attempt. Something went wrong.
Yet, even after the bitter defeat, the game experience was well worth it. Unlike what I did here, it’s very difficult to separate the experience from the game itself. While the Sixers lost, they did so to a good team in a thrilling, if anticlimactic, finish. I suggest that, if you’re a fan, to attempt to attend at least one this year. It will be well worth the money. Overall for the two of us, with parking and food included, the total came to just over $100 bucks. We had good seating and a good time despite the defeat. That’s all can ask for from ownership, and I’m glad they delivered.