SALT LAKE CITY - Monday in his professional debut, 76ers center Jahlil Okafor started slowly, making only three of his first 11 shots. Compared with how the Sixers and Boston Celtics began last night's game in the Utah Jazz Summer League, Okafor was on fire the previous game.
The teams began the contest by combining to make one of the first 19 shots. They had totaled only four points midway through the first quarter.
Ah, summer league. When it was mercifully over, the Sixers prevailed, 76-62. After missing their first 10 three-pointers, they made six of their final 11 and outscored the Celtics by 13 points in the second half.
While the purpose of these games is to find positives and negatives in individuals - especially Okafor, the third overall pick in the draft - the game was comparable to a getaway game in baseball. Both teams seemed to be looking forward more to getting to today's off day than to playing good basketball. Sometimes coaches will come out of practices proclaiming they didn't get much out of it. That was true through much of last night's game.
"The theme of development is that you're watching and evaluating toughness," said Sixers assistant Billy Lange, who is running the team in Salt Lake City. "You're evaluating their character and integrity and who is a leader and who stays with it. I'm looking at a lot of young guys out there who just stayed with it and eventually figured it out, imposed their will, shared the basketball and played with great effort."
Lange got contributions from many as the Sixers overcame the sluggish start to shoot 41.2 percent from the floor and scored 49 points in the second half after getting only 27 in the first.
Okafor, fresh from signing his contract with the Sixers, sort of glided his way to 13 points and nine rebounds, while second-round pick Richaun Holmes came off the bench for 13 points, eight boards and a pair of blocks. Jordan McRae also scored 13, while Jerami Grant scored 12. Furkan Aldemir grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots to go with 11 points, including three threes.
"I think I did better than I did [Monday]," said Okafor, who graded himself out as a C-plus. "I was working on certain things the coaches were asking me, like spacing the floor."
He played close to 29 minutes after 30 the previous night. His pace isn't exactly quick, which allows the 24-second shot to sneak up on him.
"That's the only thing that's really different," he said. "That kind of speeds up the pace of the game. That's the only difference I can take away right now."
The team announced the Okafor signing before the game. Per team policy, financial terms were not released, but it is a standard rookie contract - two years, plus team options for another two years.
According to the NBA rookie salary scale, the third player taken in the draft is slotted to make $3,818,900. The team can pay as much as 120 percent of that or as little as 80 percent.
The injury was as heartbreaking to those watching as it was painful to the player who suffered it. Just minutes into his first game with the 76ers in the Orlando Summer League a year ago, 5-10 guard Pierre Jackson crumpled to the floor while making a move away from the basketball. His torn Achilles' cost him a season of high expectations and cast doubt on where his basketball career would go.
Turns out, for now, it's taking him back home. Jackson, who has now been saddled by a groin injury, is set to play for the 76ers' contingent in Las Vegas starting Saturday night.
"I'm going to play. I'm going back home," Jackson told reporters in Philadelphia yesterday following a practice. "I watched every game while I was out. They got up and down, and that's something that I like to do. As soon as I was able to start working out I thought that I was ready to play, but obviously I wasn't able to play. It all worked out. I learned just by watching the games."
Jackson was taken by the Sixers in the second round in 2013, only to be traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in the deal that brought Nerlens Noel to Philly. Jackson played in the NBA Development League that season and averaged 29.1 points for the Idaho Stampede. He was traded back to the Sixers the night of the 2014 draft.
He knows well the Sixers lack depth at point guard and has no doubt he can help.
"It's the perfect situation for me," he said. "I'm confident in myself and it's a big opportunity for me. Being healthy and being around is all I'm trying to do."
There are no games here tonight, but the team will hold a practice this morning at Energy Solutions Arena . . . Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who collected 26 points and eight assists on Monday against the Jazz, got last night's game off.