PHILADELPHIA (AP) The Philadelphia 76ers told a national anthem singer and a middle finger-flipping fan to hit the road.
Russell Westbrook then sent the Sixers packing with a loss and showed life without Kevin Durant might not be so bad for Oklahoma City.
Westbrook stared down a double bird and spoiled Joel Embiid’s debut with 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Thunder to a 103-97 victory on Wednesday night.
Westbrook’s surge down the stretch capped a peculiar night in Philly.
The 76ers had a tripleheader of image faux pas on opening night: The scheduled anthem singer says she was booted because she wanted to wear a ”We Matter” jersey; a fan was kicked out for extending two middle fingers at Westbrook; and halftime singer Desiigner was booed off the court for a shirtless performance where he dropped his pants past his rear.
”Crazy, right?” Westbrook said. ”I turned a new leaf though because that cost me $25,000 last time. I guess the fan, he’ll be all right. I guess they can say whatever they want to the players and do what they want.”
Westbrook was fined by the league for ”directing inappropriate language toward a fan” in a playoff game last year. He took the high road toward the Sixers fan and stuck around to score the decisive points on opening night for the Thunder in their first game since Durant left in free agency and signed with the Golden State Warriors.
Embiid nearly matched Westbrook down the stretch and showed a needed spark for the Sixers.
Embiid scored 20 points in 22 minutes in his first game since the Sixers made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Embiid had sat out the last two seasons with foot injuries. He received a roaring ovation when he was introduced and fans went wild on every shot.
Fans chanted ”Trust The Process” when Embiid was at the free-throw line. The catchphrase became a rallying cry under former team president Sam Hinkie.
”Having the fans chant that, it was special and I loved it,” Embiid said.
Westbrook and Embiid swapped jumpers that tied the game 97-all. Westbrook sank two free throws with 35 seconds left for a 99-97 lead in front of a raucous crowd. Enes Kanter silenced them for good and sent them toward the exits with a putback layup after the Sixers missed a shot on the other end.
Yes, it was another loss for the Sixers, but one that came with a 7-foot-2 asterisk.
Embiid’s performance largely stole the show from the opening-night shenanigans that otherwise tarnished the night.
Sixers fans who had been waiting to cheer for Embiid for more than two years went wild every time he touched the ball. A group of fans held a sign that read, ”In Embiid We Trust.”
The Sixers just might prove they made the right decision to trust in Embiid.
The sellout crowd of 20,487 fans erupted when the ”7-foot-2 center from Kansas, Joooooel, Embiiiiid” was introduced during game introductions. They stood and gasped when Embiid attempted his first shot of the game – a missed 3-pointer.
He had a nifty spin in the post and a bucket for a quick 10-2 lead.
The Sixers, yes, the 10-72 Sixers, at last had a dose of good news.
Embiid starred on a nationally televised performance and gave a teasing glimpse that he just may be the franchise cornerstone player that can help shift the franchise toward respectability.
”I love this city and I just want to appreciate the moment,” he said.
Westbrook, now The Man in OKC, refused to cede the spotlight entirely to Embiid. He scored 12 points in the first quarter and 22 through three to keep the Thunder within striking distance entering the fourth.
Thunder: Coach Billy Donovan said the Thunder will win without Durant, just ”do it in a different way.” ”It will be a constant process throughout the season to get everyone to understand,” he said.
76ers: Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard rang the ceremonial opening bell. … UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was at the game.
Philadelphia 76ers national anthem singer Sevyn Streeter says she was told by the team she could not perform because of her ”We Matter” jersey. Streeter wrote on Twitter, ”Was suppose to sing the anthem at (at)sixers & (at)okcthunder game but mins b4 (at)sixers said I couldn’t because I was wearing a ”We Matter” jersey.
The Sixers ejected a portly fan in an Allen Iverson jersey who directed both middle fingers toward Westbrook from his courtside seat. The fan raised his arms in triumph and high-fived fans as he was escorted out of the arena.
Rapper Desiigner was booed off the court for a halftime performance where he performed shirtless and left with his jeans down almost to his ankles and his boxers exposed.
No. 1 overall draft pick Ben Simmons says there is no timetable for his return to the Sixers from a broken bone in his right foot. He said he has not discussed the possibility of sitting out the season.
”I’ll come back when I’m ready,” Simmons said.
Thunder: Host Phoenix on Friday in their home opener.
76ers: Host Atlanta on Saturday. They open with three straight and five of their first six at home.