PHILADELPHIA, PA ( — "The Philadelphia 76ers fans will never come back!" That was a statement not too many years ago from many outside of Philadelphia, who truly believed Sixers fans would never return to the Wells Fargo Center to support the team as they were put through a 'process' of tanking.

Fast forward to the 2019-2020 season opener, and the Wells Fargo Center was a sold-out, packed house full of screaming fans before tip-off ready for the team to take on their rivals, the Boston Celtics. Philly fans were excited for the new year, but they were especially thrilled to check out two new starters making their Philly debut.

Former Boston Celtics center Al Horford and former Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson were suiting up for the Sixers for the first time on Wednesday to make their regular-season debut's. Needless to say, they did not disappoint.

Richardson fired up the crowd on numerous occasions with his relentless and gritty defense. He ended up snagging a steal, blocking multiple shots, and collecting six rebounds on Wednesday night. Although his shooting wasn't much of a highlight, the Sixers' guard still managed to notch 17 points during his debut.

Al Horford, on the other hand, was a bit more nervous than Richardson was heading into this one. As the former Celtics center opened up the season playing against his old team, he had some off-putting feelings towards the matchup. The nerves wouldn't last long, though. Horford ended up collecting 16 points of his own, along with three assists, a steal, and two total rebounds.

So Richardson and Horford made a decent first-impression to Sixers fans who were present. Now how did the two new stars feel about the crowd? “It felt great, man," Al Horford said following the game. "The atmosphere was great tonight. Our fans were unbelievable."

Josh Richardson seemed to agree following the game, as he felt like the fans treated the first game of the season like it was the first game of the playoffs. "It kind of felt like a playoff atmosphere already," Richardson says.

"You know, they’re on time! That was great [laughs]." Back in the preseason, Richardson joked that Philly fans surprised him when they showed up to the game by tip-off, claiming that Miami fans tend to get to the games late. So zero tardiness from the crowd is something that seems to be new for the former head guard.

Not only were fans present by the beginning, though, but they were also causing a hostile environment for the away team right before the game even got started. "Our fans were unbelievable from before tip-off," says Horford. "I could already tell, everybody was just really into it and really engaged. By the time the national anthem was over, it was a packed house, and they carried us throughout the night. We had some ruts there, and they kind of gave us a boost when we needed it.”

Horford played off of the energy from the crowd, but Richardson got the fans started early. When the former Miami Heat guard picked up his first steal of the year, he immediately pumped up the arena, showing off his high energy, and he discussed that after the win. "We got 17 guys who can contribute [and] who are tough, hard-nosed players. You know, that’s Philly — I think they will appreciate that." To no surprise, Richardson was correct.

Justin Grasso is the Philadelphia 76ers insider for South Jersey's 97.3 ESPN. You can follow Justin on Twitter: @JGrasso_

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