Just 24 hours after Villanova triumphed in one of the most stunning victories in the history of Philadelphia basketball, another basketball miracle occurred in the City of Brotherly Love last night. Yes, Virginia, there is a tenth Philadelphia 76ers win: The Fighting Franklins took down the mighty New Orleans Pelicans, by the score of 107-93. Check your local news affiliate for school closings, phone your company HR to make sure your place of work is still open today.
And I think it's safe to say that if they hadn't taken this one, not only would the Sixers not have gotten that double-digit win total over the remainder of their schedule, they wouldn't have deserved to. No opponent of the Sam Hinkie era has ever or will ever be teed up for demolition quite like these Pelicans, who were a lottery-bound disappointment to begin with, and were essentially missing all of their actual NBA players — no Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Omer Asik, or even Norris Cole or Quincy Pondexter. If the Sixers had been slayed by a barrage Tim Frazier jumpers and Kendrick Perkins post-ups, I'm not sure how I could have justified not actively rooting against them the last five games of the season.
For a disconcerting amount of gametime, it seemed a distinct possibility. The Pelicans jumped out to an early 21-9 advantage and led by eight at the end of the 1st, and despite a 36-point Sixers Q2, still kept it close for most of the game. But eventually, the Pellies proved no match for the Sixers' super-low-baseline competence, and by the fourth quarter it was plainly obvious — for what feels like the first time since about 2001 — that Philly had the better team on the court. Carl Landry was particularly brilliant, hitting his first nine shots and ending with 22 points and nine boards off the bench. Isaiah Canaan hit four threes. Ish Smith, T.J. McConnell, and Nik Stuaskas combined for 20 assists and four turnovers. Nerlens Noel played for the first time in a couple weeks and flailed around a bunch. It was an OK all-around performance, and for once this season, that was plenty for Brett Brown's wrecking crew.
Of course, part of me is sick enough to actually wonder if we would have been better off with the Sixers leaning into their historical losingness. I've often said in this space that because what Our Dark Lord is attempting is so unprecedented, it seems only right and expected that it should have unprecedented consequences. Going 9-73 wouldn't technically have been unprecedented — thanks again, Fred and Leroy and Kevin — but it still would have felt sort of right for this season, the (we pray) ultimate low point in the Hinkie timeline, right before (we pray) this summer finally turns things around. Maybe it would be the rock bottom this team finally needed to hit before they could actually begin to crawl their way out.
But then again, it's not a stigma that anyone involved with this team — with the possible exception of the Hink himself — deserves to have attached to their name forever. And by avoiding getting etched in the record books and bookending the Sixers' season with matching 1-30 stretches, if just getting that tenth win can qualify as some sort of "momentum" by this team's unthinkably low standards for achievement, that's probably a worthwhile thing. Certainly not everyone who played tonight will still be here three seasons from now, or even next season, but for those who will, last night probably meant a not-inconsiderable amount.
And perhaps most importantly, for those of us still watching this Sixers season, we can finally let go. The reason that last-second Nuggets loss hurt so much a couple weeks ago was because the finish line was actually in sight for the first time all year: After collecting win #10, we could watch or not watch the Sixers as we saw fit, but we wouldn't still have to care whether they won or lost. Normally, the liberating thing about rooting for an obviously bad team is divorcing yourself from the concept that sports teams play professional games in order to win them, and just watching out of intellectual curiosity and/or general bemusement. Having all but clinched the worst-overall record (and highest-overall lottery slot) months ago, that should have been the freedom of these final Sixers games. But until they got that damn tenth W, it still mattered if they won or not, and it was always at least a little bit dispiriting when they didn't. Now we can afford to just sit back and laugh at Robert Covington's ill-advised 28-footers, and not give a care about the potential implications. About damn time.
Finally, a personal note about that Villanova win: I was happy for them, but I couldn't actually enjoy it myself. The idea of there being a basketball team in Philadelphia to achieve the highest level of success while these Sixers continued to flounder in potentially Guinness-bound decrepitude was just vinegar in the wound that had grown over 77 games of this season. Watching this level of losing for a whole year not only sours you on the team, it just kind of sours you in general. But with this win in the bank, the books all but closed on this season, and June just a couple of months away, I can finally afford to unclench and look forward to sweeter times ahead. Go you Hinkies.