Afterward, Harden did his best to spin his night forward. Maybe, he said, the 76ers needed to get their butts kicked.
“Since I’ve been here, everything has been sweet,” he said. “We’ve been winning games. So tonight was good for us, and we get an opportunity to come down to reality, watch film and continue to get better.”
It should be noted that not everything is rainbows and puppy dogs for the Nets, who have lost 17 of their last 22 games. Simmons, who has not played since last season, is still working his way back into playing shape, and who knows how he will jell with the Nets once he returns. And Irving, who is unvaccinated, still cannot play in home games. Barring a change in public policy, that will remain the case in the postseason. But when Irving is available to play, look out. He scored 50 points against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, and he and Durant combined for 47 on Thursday.
“Coming into the game,” Irving said, “I just told the guys: ‘Simplify it. Two baskets and a basketball. Don’t pay attention to what’s going on. No distractions. No fear. And let’s just live with the results.’ ”
Before the game, Rivers was asked if he thought the 76ers and the Nets constituted a rivalry. Not yet, he said. The Yankees and the Red Sox have a rivalry. Duke and North Carolina have a rivalry. Rivers even cited the rivalry between the 76ers and the Boston Celtics, one that dates back decades. Rivers recalled that when he was coaching the Celtics and lost an important game to the 76ers, Tommy Heinsohn, the former Celtics great who was working as one of the team’s television broadcasters at the time, “almost killed me.”
Still, the 76ers and the Nets are now connected in an odd way, having swapped disgruntled stars. They are also growing familiar with one other as title hopefuls in the same division. As for their becoming rivals?
“Let’s make it one,” Rivers said. “Both of us want the same thing, right? We have the exact same goal.”
For one night, at least, one team seemed closer to reaching that goal than the other.