We'd seen this before.

The bottom dropped from beneath the 76ers on Wednesday night.

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In front of a sold-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, a tight contest with the Miami Heat had turned into a blowout, which was then only a few plays from becoming an embarrassment.

But instead of welcoming the fall, letting gravity do its work, the Sixers did something rarely seen last season: They clawed themselves to respectability.

Miami won, 97-87.

But if you watched every last moment, pride was displayed and a darn good performance - exciting, really - from rookie guard Evan Turner.

The Sixers started the season 0-1. The Heat, led by Dwyane Wade's 30 points, pulled even at 1-1. LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the other two players in Miami's all-star trio, combined for 31 points and 13 rebounds.

After the game, Sixers coach Doug Collins seemed near tears about the response his team received.

"You know what was great? When we left the floor tonight, fans cheered," Collins said. "They cheered, OK? You know what that meant to our team in the locker room, that those fans cheered them? Because a lot of these guys haven't even felt that before."

At the end of the third quarter, Miami held an 80-54 lead. With 40.5 seconds remaining, the Sixers had possession and an opportunity to cut the lead to five points.

It's not the stuff of NBA titles, but it's the stuff of growing interest.

"That was due to Coach; he's not going to let us give up," explained Sixers power forward Elton Brand. "He's going to find some guys that will go out there and keep fighting."

"We fought as a unit, which was most important," Turner said. "We never gave up. I think Coach was really impressed."

Most impressive was Turner, who finished with a team-high 16 points.

On multiple occasions - a spin move in the lane and a crossover on the wing - Turner's on-the-ball moves inspired oohs and ahs from the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

Turner's second-unit teammates, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young (15 points apiece), were charged with climbing the hill paved by the team's starters, who finished with only 30 combined points and were dominated by Miami's starters.

"As I said before, my starters aren't necessarily my best players," Collins said. "And that's why I said don't get caught up in who's starting."

Collins has a riddle to solve: how to preserve his impressive second team without stripping bare his starting unit.

The journey continues on Friday, when the Sixers play the Atlanta Hawks at home.

But Friday's game won't be the opportunity that Wednesday's contest was.

Playing Miami was a chance for the Sixers to throw the lights on their NBA season, to show the city there might be a professional basketball team worth watching this winter, to instantly pull the Sixers into the fast lane.

It didn't happen.

But at least they left the court hearing cheers, not boos.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.