MILWAUKEE — From the subtle changes around the arena to the obvious large-scale differences, the theme of the Milwaukee Bucks’ home opener Friday night was turning the page.
Turning the page on a franchise-worst 15-win season a year ago. Turning the page to a new ownership group with lofty goals for the organization.
So it was fitting the player most in need of a fresh start stole the show.
O.J. Mayo continued his resurgence from a disastrous first season with the Bucks by scoring 25 points off the bench to lead Milwaukee to a 93-81 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in front of a sellout crowd of 18,717 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"The buildup this summer was great," Mayo said. "Guys came back with the aggression of wanting to be successful. We all see ourselves as winners. We see ourselves as wanting to be successful.
"We weren’t happy being the worst team in the league last year and having 15 wins. It wore on all of us throughout the season. We all had a heck of a summer because of that."
The energy in the arena was unlike any Bucks regular-season game in recent history. Accompanied by the Milwaukee Symphony with fireworks filling the arena bowl, introductions of the roster were elaborate.
Co-owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan then walked to the center of the court, with Edens welcoming fans to "a new era of Bucks basketball" and telling the crowd they soon will be watching home openers in a new arena.
Smoke hung over the arena for most of the first quarter, as the 76ers ate the Bucks alive in the paint during the first half.
Mayo began to heat up after the break, scoring seven points in the third quarter to keep Milwaukee within 74-73 heading to the final period.
A 3-pointer and a long two-point jumper from Mayo propelled the Bucks on a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter, as Milwaukee grabbed an 80-74 lead. Philadelphia responded to cut the Bucks’ lead to 82-81 with 8:21 to play, but the 76ers wouldn’t score again.
Playing the entire fourth quarter, Mayo outscored Philadelphia, 10-7, himself. Mayo finished with 25 points on 8 of 13 shooting, hitting 5 of 7 attempts from beyond the arc.
Signed to a three-year, $24 million contract prior to the 2013-14 season, Mayo’s first season with the Bucks was filled with problems. He suffered an illness and then had weight and conditioning issues, playing in just 52 games.
Many wondered if Mayo would ever return to form, but he seems to be responding well. The 26-year-old is averaging 21.0 points per game and shooting 60.9 percent from the field and hitting 61.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
"Me and him had a great summer together working hard," Bucks guard Brandon Knight said. "Ever since last year and the things he went through, he has a chip on his shoulder. I can see it in his work ethic and how he approaches the game.
"He’s going to continue to do it all year long. I’m confident in that. He has our full support. We’re behind him all the way. He’s been a great player in this league. It is all about him having the right mental mindset, and he’ll have that."
When the final buzzer sounded Friday, Mayo grabbed the game ball and took it directly to Edens, congratulating him on his first win as a co-owner of the team.
"I just told him congratulations," Mayo said. "It was a fun game to watch. The fans came in here and sold out the place. The energy he’s helping bring to the city is very much appreciated. First win of many."