THIS WAS the first day of a new regime for the 76ers. It was not like any other day this season, and, at the same time, it was exactly the same. There was a game to be played, and it was against the Boston Celtics, the new/old scourge of the East.
Ed Stefanski, late of the New Jersey Nets, was in place as the Sixers' new president/general manager, succeeding the fired Billy King. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were in place with the revitalized Celtics, taking the spots of guys already long forgotten.
The Sixers came in 5-12, worse than perhaps expected, and left with a 113-103 loss. The Celtics left 15-2, breaking it open after a competitive 40 minutes.
Change for the Celtics has come with an all-but-spectacular beginning. In this one, Garnett had 22 points, Paul Pierce had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Allen was only 3-for-12 with 12 points. The real daggers came from the bench, which outscored the Sixers' reserves, 46-26; James Posey (17) and Eddie House (15) led that charge, including knocking down seven of their teams' 10 three-point field goals. The Celtics' subs, in fact, accounted for 21 of 30 fourth-quarter points.
"They spread the floor with a lot of shooters," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "You pay a price. Any time you double, they have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball."
The Sixers, who have lost 11 of 14, will change more incrementally.
"Boston's a good team - good players, good team," Cheeks said. "I thought for 40 minutes we were there . . .
"I thought our effort was great, our energy was great, and being a Boston-Sixers game, the fans came out [an announced 15,779]. It was good to see. You've got to be able to sustain that. If you sustain it, you give yourselves a chance."
The Sixers led, 86-83, with 10:15 remaining, and were within 89-88 at 9:31, only to see the visitors ring up 24 of the final 39 points.
It is, after all, still a 48-minute game. At the end, Andre Miller's season highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds (his first double-double of the season), Andre Iguodala's 24 points and Lou Williams' 18 were just another set of numbers.
If change on this night meant a spirited, encouraging effort, fine. But that was all it meant.
"I'm never satisfied with a loss," Iguodala said. "I'm trying to win no matter who [the opponent] is, from the best teams to the worst teams in the league. That's our whole focus."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, though, was impressed with what he saw.
"Cheeks has that group playing extraordinarily hard for him," Rivers said. "They don't play like their record. He gets them to play hard, and that's nice for him, but not so nice for us."
Cheeks, new regime or not, needs more. That's hardly a secret.
"Change is part of life," he said. "We have a lot of young guys on this team; if you're going to be around and stick around, change is something that happens. You have to go ahead and proceed."
Cheeks, in the final season of his contract, must deal with that aspect as much as anyone. That was a big part of King's parting message.
"We were trying to go out and do everything we possibly could anyway," Cheeks said. "It's not like . . . any one of us was trying to go out there and not do things correctly. Change is what it is.
"Billy put his heart into it, and he tried to do everything he felt was correct, and to tell us to keep going, to keep moving forward. I think that's the way he is, as a person and as an executive. [He told us] to try and do things correctly; try the best you can.
"I never stop thinking things are going to change for the better. Whatever happens, we try and put our efforts on the floor. Any situation, you go in positive. I won't change from that. I will be the same way.
"Sometimes, things don't go the way you'd like them to. You've got to deal with whatever comes your way, try and make the best of it. Having said that, [the record] is not where we'd like it to be."
It will take more than a regime change to change that.
A scheduled postgame concert by J. Holiday was postponed until Monday night because the entertainer had travel problems coming from Houston. *