The home schedule came to a merciful close for the 76ers on Monday night, and it ended, fittingly enough, against another team that has struggled through a season dedicated to the future rather than the present.
Both teams have one game remaining, but the rest of the league has already stopped paying attention. The Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards, the final opponents for the Sixers and Celtics, respectively, didn't bother to send scouts to Monday's game. The entire scouts' table was empty at the Wells Fargo Center, mute testimony that whatever needs to be learned about these teams has already been learned or is no longer necessary.
So, what have we learned about going through the purgatory of stripping down the engine before it can be rebuilt?
"It's been tough. It's been really tough," said Brad Stevens, the first-year coach of the Celtics. "It never stops coming at you. You have to be very focused on what you can control."
Neither team has been very good at controlling the scoreboard or the outcomes of games. The Sixers got this one, though, 113-108, for their 18th win of the season. The Celtics are 25-56. They aren't stars but they hope to find some in the draft lottery.
The coaches and players have endured the process, if only because there was no choice. Together, the two teams have put 43 players on the court this season. The Sixers were honest from the start that this would be a season in which their goals were modest, hoping to develop point guard Michael Carter-Williams and to discover through a constant casting call one or two players who might be able to stick as bench players in the NBA.
Unfortunately, since the trade deadline when they unloaded Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, there have been around 10 of them on the playing roster and some of those potential bench players were starting against NBA opponents. The strategy may have been effective, but it hasn't been pleasant to live through.
"I actually think in a very twisted way that I'm going to look back at this year, and look back at guys who just played their tails off," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "They came in and there were no expectations and they played and developed and got NBA minutes. They looked at me and I looked at them and we incredibly survived a year like this."
Monday's game was a fair representation of what the Sixers have been at their best and worst this season. They are young and athletic and can get up and down the court quickly, although not always with purpose. They don't have much to offer in their half-court sets aside from some basic rub screens and pick-and-rolls.
With the constantly changing personnel and the limited talent of the roster, Brown hasn't been able to get too fancy. Early offense is their best shot at scoring and they do push the ball relentlessly. Some nights, as was the case Monday, the shots fall.
Defensively, the Sixers have allowed an average of 110 points per game this season, and that speaks for itself. The downside of playing at a fast pace with a lot of possessions is that the other guy gets the same number. So, while the Sixers' defense has forced the most turnovers this season, their offense has also committed the most.
Against the Celtics, the Sixers surged out to a 19-point lead in the first half, fell asleep in the third quarter and then had to scramble to pull out the win. Boston appeared to have tied the game and forced overtime on a last-second three-pointer, but Chris Johnson's right foot slipped an inch out of bounds and that was that.
"We wanted to close it out with strength and we couldn't," Brown said. "But I'm pleased we could find a way to win. It's good to reward a group that has taken a lot of hits this year."
So the Sixers took three of four games from the Celtics this season, which would have been a cause for wild celebration in other years. This time around, it merely represents their only season-series win. If they were to beat the Heat on Wednesday, a team locked into its playoff position and likely to rest players, the Sixers would win another season series and retire the NBA Irony Trophy, having opened and closed their worst season in 18 years by beating the defending league champions.
By October, when the team reappears, with new players acquired in the draft and through free agency, the Sixers cast will be far different, as will the focus.
"This hall pass [will] be over with . . . and we need to make progress in a different way next year," Brown said.
The progress this year was measured in coffee spoons, just a little at a time. More will be expected soon. How much more no one knows. How soon is a decent question, too.