There won’t be songs written about beating a last-place Detroit Pistons team on a cold December night (although if you do, hit me up @PhillyFastBreak on the bird app, love to hear it), but every win counts the same in the 82-game slog known as the NBA regular season. So the Philadelphia 76ers winning their sixth straight game Wednesday night, 113-93, is notable not so much for their coming out victorious, but more so because it was a fairly rare stress-free contest in which the Sixers did not play down to their competition.
A big reason Philadelphia was able to cruise to the win was the play of the bench, which not only kept the team afloat but extended the lead during their time on the court. No reserve had a negative plus/minus rating Wednesday night, and Georges Niang’s plus-19 mark actually led the team. The strong play from the second unit allowed the starters to all log minutes totals below their season averages, particularly guys like Tobias Harris (21:08), P.J. Tucker (21:07), and De’Anthony Melton (23:59) who carried heavy burdens last month while the stars were sidelined.
During the post-game media session, Harris spoke to the starters being able to receive some rest at the end of the game:
“We want to get to the point in fourth quarters where we know we have the game. Obviously, we’re going to play great teams that that’s not going to be the case. They’re going to be hard fought games. But, for us as a group, we know the teams that we should go out and have a lead and maintain a lead. Be able to have the comfort in the fourth quarter to get guys less minutes and have guys that come off the bench play more minutes is good for us. So, we know as a group that’s always been our mindset. We just haven’t really been able to do it that much this year. But, hopefully tonight starts some of that.”
The Sixers’ bench has been instrumental in more than just Wednesday night’s win, of course. Georges Niang is top-ten in the league at 41.6 percent from three-point range.
After shining during his brief stint as the focal point of the offense, Shake Milton has returned seamlessly to his bench role, scoring at least nine points in five of seven games since James Harden’s return, also chipping in five assists against the Pistons.
Danuel House, Jr. has scored nine points in back-to-back games for just the second time this season.
DHouse left the basket shaking. pic.twitter.com/z2p2Ir2YDL— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 22, 2022
Matisse Thybulle is shooting over 50 percent from the field this month and sparked the team with a pair of backcourt steals last night.
Montrezl Harrell is seeking the memorial Dwight Howard award for backup center who emphatically dunks and yells a lot.
Following the game, head coach Doc Rivers spoke to his second unit’s strong contributions of late:
“I just think part of the reason is when all of these guys were out, [the bench players] were starting. They were playing major minutes and now they have confidence. We work with them. We worked after practice today with the bench only group trying to get spacing. We ran a play out of the timeout, that’s what they were all pointing to the bench, because we actually worked on a play and it actually worked. It only works if the guy makes the shot, and Georges [Niang] made the shot, so he was happy. They have a good chemistry together. They’re starting to read each other really well. One of the things I think they do a great job of when the play breaks down is they find Trez [Montrezl Harrell]. They just throw it to him anywhere. And we go dribble handoff and we get scoring out of that. That’s actually becoming part of the offense for them. It almost seems at times they want to go to that, which is not a bad thing to do.”
The Sixers’ stars will likely determine this team’s ultimate ceiling, but you need a whole roster to navigate the obstacles of a long season that spans from late October to May (and maybe someday June?). Whether it’s assuming larger roles when the team has been hit by injuries, or contributing in smaller spurts when the Sixers are closer to all hands on deck, Philadelphia’s depth pieces have proven up to the challenge thus far this year.