Following an impressive preseason, winning six out of seven games, the Sixers came out with a bang! On a night that was filled with the anticipation of the return of a former Philly star and the start of a new era for the Philadelphia 76ers, it was a familiar face that stole the show. Prior to the game the Sixers honored two of the franchise’s best big men, Moses Malone and Dikembe Mutombo, so it was only right that a Sixers big man take center stage. But it wasn’t the big man that fans envisioned heading into the season. With newly acquired big man Andrew Bynum still nursing a knee injury, coach Doug Collins called on Spencer Hawes to come off the bench opening night. Hawes responded by having one of his best games in a Sixers uniform. Hawes 16 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, and numerous big plays down the stretch proved to be too much for the Denver Nuggets as the home team treated the nearly 20,000 fans in attendance to a gritty 84-75 victory.
It was the first time since the 2007 season that the Sixers won their opening night contest. However unlike that game when Allen Iverson dominated the scoring with 32 points, this victory proved to be a complete team effort. Sporting their new royal blue uniforms, this revamped Sixers team set out to prove that they are here to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. Led by do it all point guard Jrue Holiday, the Sixers backed up Coach Collin’s recent statement that this Sixers team is the deepest that he has ever coached. Playing on the eve of the leagues 2009 rookie extension deadline, Holiday’s 14 points and 11 assists proved that the young point guard will be worth every penny he receives.
Although the Sixers biggest free agent acquisition was not able to play, there were plenty of contributions from other fresh faces making their Sixers debut. Veteran swing man Dorell Wright came off the bench to contribute 14 points, while starting shooting guard Jason Richardson added 10 points of his own. In all the Sixers had five players score in double digits. While the Sixers wait for Bynum to return to the lineup, it appears that this group will look to lean on a balanced scoring attack and tenacious defense to lead the way. The Sixers held the Nuggets to 75 points on 37.5% shooting, scoring 20 points on 22 Denver turnovers. The last time the Nuggets were held to 75 points was April 15, 2009. After the game Wright showed his pleasure with the team’s defense stating “Everybody knows defense wins championships.” With many of the Sixers new acquisitions known for the offensive abilities, it was a welcomed sight for Coach Collins to see his squad perform so well on the defensive end. As opening night games usually are, this game had its share of sloppy play from both teams. But it was the Sixers that seemed to make the big shots and big stops when needed.
With all of the excitement from the fans wanting to see their new look Sixers, the return of former Sixer Andre Iguodala hardly lived up to the hype. During player introductions the home fans greeted the former all star with a smattering of both cheers and jeers. Following the lukewarm reception the home crowd proceeded to boo Iguodala each time he touched the ball. After hitting his initial shot in a Denver Nuggets uniform, the former Sixer ended up with the kind of uneventful stat line of 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists that the home crowd was all too familiar with. During the first time out the Sixers ran a video tribute of one of Iguodala’s finest moments as a Sixer, showing him sink 2 free throws that propelled the Sixers to a game 6 victory over the 1st seeded Chicago Bulls and a birth in the second round of last year’s playoffs. The fans gave Iguodala a standing ovation following the video tribute, to which he responded with a wave to the crowd. Prior to the game Iguodala thanked the Philadelphia organization and fans on his personal website saying “I will always share my accomplishments with the city and organization and I thank you both for all that you have done for me.”
Shortly after the game, it was announced that the Sixers and Jrue Holiday agreed on a 4 year 41 million dollar extension. The organization has to be ecstatic that they were able to sign the 22 year old point guard at such a modest price. In his 4 year career, Holiday has improved his numbers each year and showed that he has superstar potential. After leading the team in scoring with 14.9 ppg last season, Holiday raised his averages when it mattered most, in the post season. During last year’s playoff run Holiday led the team in not only scoring but assists, steals, and three-point shooting percentage. He is a multi talented guard that plays just as well off the ball as he does with it in his hands. Holiday and Bynum have the potential to become one of the league’s most formative guard/big man duos in the years to come.
The Sixers now have a few days to rest up before traveling to New York to face the Knicks on Sunday. The Sixers will then turn around and face the Knicks on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. With four out of the next five games being against divisional opponents, the team will look to build on the emotional opening night win.Tags: Allen Iverson, Andre Igoudala, Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright, Doug Collins, Jason Richardson, Jrue Holiday, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers, Spencer Hawes