At the end of what turned out to be one of the most exciting nights in the young NBA season -- and an excruciating loss for his Philadelphia 76ers -- head coach Brett Brown summed things up well for his young team.
"I'm proud of the effort. We fought and had a great atmosphere," Brown said. ".... I'm proud of our guys."
The city of Philadelphia has felt the same way about its Sixers throughout their surprising start. Friday's loss left Philadelphia at 14-14, tied for the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The game featured a little bit of everything -- trash talk among star players like Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid, a 17-point comeback by the home team and three overtimes. And it provided further evidence that the Sixers can compete against most teams in the NBA.
"They have a lot of weapons," Ben Simmons said. "We have weapons, too."
On one of the first days of the season, Brown said that the Sixers wanted to make the playoffs this year. A third of the way through the season, that goal is still well within reach. Much of the credit, of course, goes to the surprising production from all of the Sixers' young, bold-faced names.
Simmons is almost two assists per game and one rebound per game shy of averaging a triple-double. Embiid has had at least 20 points in seven straight games and is averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocks on the season.
But there's another element to the Sixers' success, one that doesn't make the nightly highlight show or get shared on social media.
"The veterans, they make an impact every day," second-year forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot said.
Yes, JJ Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson have given Philadelphia a different element of veteran leadership this season. In year's past, Philadelphia employed veterans like Elton Brand and Jason Richardson -- players with strong NBA resumes at the end of their careers. But Redick, Bayless and Johnson all play regularly for Philadelphia, which gives their words a different gravitas for this young Sixers group.
"To now have players sweating on the court that can add the leadership in real time, instead of something static in a video room -- that is priceless," Brown said. "I think the abundance we have this year and the fact that they play, the combination is powerful, and I appreciate [Sixers president and general manager] Bryan Colangelo helping me, helping us design the team with that in mind."
Brown referenced a study by the military on leadership when discussing the topic on Friday.
"They talked about having a 3:1 ratio -- three young people to a veteran cadet -- and the impact of that leadership," he said. Philadelphia may not always have had satisfied that ratio in recent seasons. The Sixers had the NBA's youngest -- or second-youngest -- roster in each of the past four seasons. And some opposing executives believed that the club's lack of strong leadership was having a negative impact on the young players. The lack of progression of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor -- two top picks traded by the Sixers -- was held as evidence.
But those around the team said on Friday that there's no leadership void on this year's team, thanks to Redick, Johnson and Bayless.
"A lot of times you might have a vet that might not give too many of his tricks away. These guys, they're not like that," James Michael McAdoo said. "They're more than willing to pull you aside because obviously it's going to benefit the team."
McAdoo, a two-way player for Philadelphia, said that after a tough loss in New Orleans recently, Redick told the Sixers that they couldn't give away games with turnovers as they did against the Pelicans. The next game, facing a similar situation against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sixers walked off the floor with a win.
"After the New Orleans game, JJ said we can't have this happen, we're too good of a team," McAdoo said. "That really sunk in with us."
Brown said the teaching extends to the film room, bus rides to and from arenas and flights to road games.
"This program needs that. All programs need that," the coach said.
Will the veteran presence of Redick, Johnson, Bayless and, now, Trevor Booker (acquired in a trade involving Okafor this month) help Philadelphia fulfill the promise of The Process and make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons?
We'll find out over the next four months. If they do end up playing in late April, Brown believes the elder statesmen on the roster will have played a significant role in getting them there.
"[Watching] JJ as a pro lead by example, and Amir lead by example, and Jerryd Bayless lead by example, those things are priceless," Brown said. "I can't speak highly enough of my veterans."