In the second night of a back-to-back, the 76ers squared off with their Eastern Conference rivals and current top-seeded Miami Heat. The Sixers still have two more back-to-back matchups remaining in their schedule, so making sure to avoid injuries with the postseason looming is extremely important. The most obvious players for the team to prioritize load management are Joel Embiid and James Harden, and each of them was given the night off in the matchup.
Expectations certainly changed with the 76ers rolling out a team without their two best players, but it was clear quickly that the Sixers showed up to play. This game was an audition for minutes for all of the bench guys and one that several of them capitalized on. The shorthanded roster competed for all 48 minutes, with Tyrese Maxey absolutely taking over down the stretch. The final few minutes turned into a highlight reel for the 21-year-old, and the Philadelphia 76ers secured a 113-106 victory over their conference foes.
Notable Bench Performances
It has been a very difficult season for Shake Milton. Despite the declaration that “the league has not caught up to Shake,” when Doc Rivers first was named the Philadelphia 76ers’ Head Coach, Milton has not quite found his footing these past two years. The 25-year-old saw his scoring numbers slip from 13 points per game last season to 7.9 points per game this year. Shake has battled a back injury this year and was also a healthy scratch in the past three games.
The Philadelphia 76ers have missed the skillset of Shake a great deal this year, and it was put on full display tonight. Tyrese Maxey picked up three fouls in the first half and was forced to take a seat which provided Shake with some extended minutes. In 31 minutes of play, Shake ended with 20 points, six assists, five rebounds, a block, and a steal. The “pop” that had been missing in Milton’s game seemed to be back, and he got it going in a way that has not been the case all season. If Shake can continue near this level of production, it would be a huge lift to the 76ers’ bench struggles.
Another guy who has completely fallen out of the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation has been Furkan Korkmaz. The Turkish Delight has played a total of 1:01 game minutes in the past five games due to his disappointing play this season. The 24-year-old has seen his three-point percentage fall to just 29.1% on the season, and Doc Rivers to remove him from the second unit.
The Furkan Korkmaz that has been so missed showed up, and he sought out his own shot in a refreshing way. Furk scored ten quick points on 4-4 shooting and ended the game with 18 points. Korkmaz attempted seven three-point attempts in the matchup, which is the most he has attempted in a game since January 25th. The 76ers have a major need for productive wing minutes in the second unit, and if Furkan can get back to the best version of himself, he could absolutely earn some minutes back.
Tyrese Maxey’s Superstar Ascension
While it was a blast watching the bench players take advantage of the extra minutes, Tyrese Maxey was the story of the game. There has yet to be a moment too big for the 21-year-old, and last night was a prime example of this. Maxey scored a game-high 28 points on 9-15 shooting while also adding five rebounds and four assists. The Most-Improved Player candidate scored 8 points in the final 2:18 of play and licked his chops each time Tyler Herro attempted to guard him.
It was clear in the first few games following the James Harden trade that Maxey would remain a very crucial part of this 76ers team. He is the current third star on the roster, and the steady improvement that has been seen in his game is unmatched. There will be a day when the keys to the Sixers organization are handed to Tyrese Maxey, but at its current state, he is the X-Factor in the starting lineup.
76ers’ Backup Center Battle
One of the major storylines heading into tonight’s matchup was how the backup center minutes would be distributed, given that Joel Embiid had the night off. There has been a great frustration as Doc Rivers refuses to give Paul Reed or Charles Bassey any minutes after the additions of DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap. Despite some reassurance from Rivers prior to the game that the young guys would get a chance, this proved not to be the case.
In total, DeAndre Jordan clocked 25 minutes while Paul Millsap played 23. Bball Paul was sent to the scorer’s table twice but only got in the game once and played a total of 2.8 seconds. Charles Bassey was not given any time.
There were some encouraging signs from Paul Millsap, who looked fresh and was fairly effective defensively. He ended with 5 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block after getting the chance to start. In contrast, DeAndre Jordan ended with 2 points, eight rebounds, one assist, and one steal during his time in the game. The most concerning part of Jordan’s minutes was the lack of defensive mobility and his inability to protect the rim. DJ was targeted heavily in the pick-and-roll, which resulted in multiple alley-oops for Bam Adebayo.
It is incredibly frustrating that neither Bball Paul nor Charles Bassey got any minutes but unfortunately, not surprising. While it is entirely possible that neither one of them could be effective, it is very frustrating not even to give it a chance. There will likely be a few more Embiid rest days where there is a chance for this to occur, but Philadelphia 76er fans should start coming to the realization that Rivers will not look outside of Millsap or Jordan when the playoff rotation is decided.
Watching the shorthanded 76ers roster find a way to beat this scrappy Miami Heat team is a very positive result. It was a complete victory in which Philly competed for all 48 minutes. The ups and downs of this team have been pretty extreme, and this was a well-needed morale boost for the Philadelphia team 76ers.