Despite the absence of former Sixers Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova in the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation Friday, multiple Sixers (22-35) stepped up against the visiting Washington Wizards (34-22). In the 120-112 triumph over the playoff-contending adversaries, it was the starting forwards who were the needed catalysts against the talent-laden backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
With a void behind rookie Dario Saric in the rotation, a theme heading into the contest, the evolving talent wasn’t phased by the added workload. It was certainly different for Saric to play through almost the first 11 minutes of the game consecutively, but the boost in minutes should prove beneficial. With another double-double for Saric (20 points, 11 rebounds), he’s finding comfort in the half court, and he has ascended over the proverbial rookie wall.
Controlling offense, slashing to the basket and finishing near the hoop, Saric has continued to display a diverse skill set in addition to his toughness and craftiness teams have to honor.
A player whose shot teams need to honor is Robert Covington. “Big Shot Bob” was back to his gunner ways tonight. Finishing with 25 points, the fourth time he’s reached that mark this season, Covington also took his man off the dribble and attacked closeouts with authority. The ability to finish at the rim is a welcome addition in Covington’s offensive attack whenever he can sustain it, and the 6-foot-9 forward looks like a completely different player when he gets a few shots to drop.
New addition Justin Anderson sat out his first game joining the team, after serving as the centerpiece in the Noel deal, but fellow wing Gerald Henderson churned out one of his most productive performances of the year. En route to 20 points, Henderson was an efficient complement to Covington and Saric and an outlet on the perimeter (3-of-8 shooting from 3). Outperforming Nik Stauskas over the last few games, Henderson is developing a case to remain the starting two guard in the near future.
Despite getting lost defensively and having to extend on closeouts, Stauskas did alright spelling Henderson. We are probably past the point where we regularly expect “sharpshooting” from Sauce, but he’s had some success attacking defenders off the dribble and utilizing his athleticism. Finishing with nine points, three rebounds and three assists, Stauskas, along with Richaun Holmes, was essential off the bench.
The John Wall-Bradley Beal duo contributed a collective 69 points, but the lacking support from their teammates hurt. Only 11 points came from Washington’s bench, with new wing Bojan Bogdanovic struggling in his debut (1-of-5 shooting), and the Sixers won with a solid team performance.
One negative stood out for Philadelphia: despite winning his matchup early against the “Polish Hammer” the Wizards kept Jahlil Okafor from getting too deep offensively. The rebounding issues sprouted again for the former first-round pick (just two), and he was routinely overpowered or caught out of position by Gortat and Co.
Thankfully, Holmes lit up the crowd tonight and flashed two-way ability. Finishing alley-oop attempts, beating his chest and letting out several primal roars, Holmes was active on both ends near the basket, and he provided a boost to the team from the second quarter on. It’s obvious his energy is infectious, and his relentless effort on the glass made things happen. Snagging 10 total boards, three offensive, he teamed with Saric and Covington to win the rebounding battle for the Sixers over Washington. Despite not being confident with his jumper still, Holmes looked the part of a starting center on this team until Joel Embiid returns. Oh, and he had five blocks tonight as well.
Joining the double-double club with 12 points and 10 boards, along with Saric and Covington (25 and 11), Holmes entered the final push of the season strong and fighting for playing time. If you’re in the camp of Holmes getting the starting nod soon, this was your night.
The Sixers travel to the Big Apple tomorrow to face the New York Knicks.