ORLANDO, Fla. — For three quarters, the Jimmy Butler era in Philadelphia was looking exactly like it was supposed to.
But basketball games are four quarters long. And the final 12 minutes of Wednesday night’s game for the 76ers against the Orlando Magic in what appeared destined to be a happy ending for Butler’s Sixers debut turned into anything but.
Instead, it was the Magic who authored a stunning 21-0 run to erase a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit. They then went on an 11-2 run to close things out to give Orlando a 111-106 victory and spoil Butler’s first game with Philadelphia. Butler finished with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes, but he couldn’t deliver a victory for the Sixers down the stretch.
It looked like he had Philadelphia in position to win twice — first when he hit Mike Muscala for a 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining to make it 104-100 in favor of the Sixers, and then again when he found Joel Embiid wide open on the left wing for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:20 remaining.
Philadelphia got one final chance to tie the game, but JJ Redick stepped out of bounds while trying to execute a dribble handoff along the sideline with Simmons, costing the Sixers an opportunity to even get off a game-tying shot.
A pair of free throws by Magic center Nikola Vucevic with 5.3 seconds left officially iced the game, sending Philadelphia to a surprising defeat in Butler’s first game with the franchise.
Still, the four-time All-Star guard — whom the Sixers acquired along with forward Justin Patton for forward Dario Saric, forward Robert Covington, guard Jerryd Bayless and a future second-round pick — showed some signs of chemistry with his new teammates despite having participated in only one morning shootaround with them prior to Wednesday night’s contest.
Butler’s first basket came just over two minutes into the game, when he took a pass from Embiid on the left wing, cut to the basket and finished an acrobatic layup.
Embiid finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists for a triple-double, and Philadelphia had 32 assists on 41 field goals — an impressive tally for a team trying to integrate a significant new piece.
The other question surrounding the Sixers heading into this game was the status of Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick from last year who was replaced in Philadelphia’s starting lineup by Butler.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Sixers coach Brett Brown insisted Fultz would remain a part of the team’s plans moving forward, and Brown was good to his word against the Magic. Fultz came in for Simmons in the first and third quarters and played lengthy stints in each half — 12 straight minutes in the first and nine in the second.
Fultz finished the game with eight points, three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes, but he didn’t attempt a free throw after double-clutching one in the second quarter of Monday’s victory at the Miami Heat — only to later say it slipped out of his hand.
The real story, though, was Butler, who finally was wearing a different jersey after spending virtually the past two months waiting for the Timberwolves to follow through on his request to be traded away from Minnesota.
Before the game, both Brown and Butler acknowledged there was going to be an adjustment period, but Butler said playing hard would solve much of it.
“I love basketball,” Butler said. “That’s where my energy comes from. I love to compete. I love to show I can help a team win, that I’m one of the really good players in the league.
“That’s where my energy comes from. Going out there and competing and playing hard. Everything else will sort itself out.”