PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid sank a 3-pointer and raised his hands toward the roof of Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
The sold-out crowd of 20,848 fans stood and roared.
Robert Covington was sinking 3-pointers. Ben Simmons was driving to the basket at will. Embiid was “Trusting the Process.” The 76ers were sharing the ball and having their way in the first half with the mighty Golden State Warriors.
Golden State reserve Nick Young imitated Embiid’s gesture in the second half.
The crowd’s reaction?
The defending NBA champions were delivering the 76ers a dose of reality.
The Warriors dominated the third and fourth quarters and beat the 76ers 124-116 in one of Philadelphia’s most anticipated games in several seasons.
“They are the NBA champs with four All-Stars,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said, “and we felt every one of them.”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry scored 20 of his game-high 35 points in the decisive third quarter. Sixers fans watched in near silence as Golden State outscored Philadelphia 47-15 in that period.
The second half was a surprise because of how well the 76ers had played in the first half.
The 76ers scored 47 points of their own in the first quarter.
The fans roared with each basket as the 76ers shot 69.2 percent (18 for 26) from the field in the opening 12 minutes. Philadelphia led by 22 points at halftime.
“We showed in the first half how good we can be,” 76ers guard J.J. Redick said, “not only offensively but defensively in how we executed our game plan.”
It’s a big game any time Golden State makes its only trip to Philadelphia. The Warriors boast unmatched star power in Kevin Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. There were plenty of people in the stands wearing Golden State jerseys.
But the anticipation wasn’t only about Golden State. The 76ers had also given their fans a reason to be excited for the game.
Philadelphia had just completed a 3-2 West Coast road trip, which included a Nov. 11 135-114 loss at Golden State.
And then there was Embiid’s performance Wednesday night on the trip’s final game — a 115-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Embiid kept 76ers fans up late with 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. Simmons added 18 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.
It was a performance 76ers fans had waited seasons for. They went crazy with joy on Twitter with future seasons of Embiid and Simmons dominance dancing in their heads.
That dominance played out in Saturday’s first half. The 76ers barely missed. Even a fan came out of the stands during a timeout to sink a half-court shot and win everybody in the crowd a free Chick-fil-A biscuit. The 76ers had 13 assists on their 18 first-quarter baskets.
Golden State couldn’t guard Simmons. Warriors defenders gave Simmons room, almost daring him to take a perimeter shot. But Simmons (23 points, 12 assists) drove the lane at will and made an assortment of acrobatic layups.
But the game’s tone changed completely in the third quarter. The Warriors turned a 24-point deficit with 11 minutes, 22 seconds left in the quarter into a 10-point lead when the period ended.
How much of that was the 76ers’ shortcomings?
Philadelphia sank just one of seven 3-pointers and committed seven turnovers in the quarter.
“We’ve shown flashes and glimpses of how good we can be,” Redick said. “But we all recognize we’ve a lot of room to improve and have a long way to go till we’re on (Golden State’s) level certainly, but to where we’re also a contender.”
How much of Golden State’s third-quarter dominance was due to the Warriors’ prowess?
Curry sank four 3-pointers — all from at least 26 feet.
The Warriors beat the 76ers down the floor for fast-break baskets. Golden State cranked up its defense in the second half, contesting just about every 76ers pass.
“That third quarter showed they’re as explosive an offensive team that has ever been in this game,” Redick said. “I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.”
The truth is Golden State is at the peak of its powers, and the 76ers still have plenty of potential and room to grow.
Saturday began a six-game home stand for the 76ers, who host the Utah Jazz on Monday night. It’s only November but it’s an important stretch for Philadelphia if it hopes to be a playoff team. The 76ers need to put some wins on the board.
“I think our team is fun,” Brown said. “I hope the crowd enjoys watching the way we play. What I hope most is we grow this into a consistently winning program. Right now we’re just young. We’re moving forward I think in good ways. But we all want things a little bit sooner, don’t we?”