Game Review | Timely Bench Spark Lights Fuse For Big Win
With the playoffs being the 76ers’ stated end goal this season, Brett Brown has naturally started to thinking more and more about the ingredients that could best set up his club for post-season success.
One of the foremost items on his mind lately has been the importance of keeping his reserves fresh. As the head coach put it to the media, you never know when a low-minute guy might come in handy.
Well, the Sixers needed one Saturday, and Richaun Holmes was there to answer the call.
With the power forward serving as the sparkplug for a vital turnaround, the Sixers stormed past Orlando for a 116-105 victory. The win was the Sixers’ seventh in a row, giving them their longest streak since a seven-game run that lasted from January 6th through January 17th, 2009.
The triumph also marked the Sixers’ 12th win in a row at The Center, and moved them to within 1.0 game of fourth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference standings. The Sixers visit the Wizards for a primetime pairing Sunday night.
As the Sixers continue to stockpile wins at a crucial stage of the year, Brown is trying to take each game as they come.
“I can inflate the importance in my mind of every game,” Brown said. “I’m trying to stay with these guys behind me nice and steady in relation to what matters most.”
That, of course, is playing beyond April 11th, the final day of the regular season.
Trailing 15-6 midway through Saturday’s first quarter, the Sixers were in vital need of a boost. Brown turned to Holmes, who, with energetic two-way contributions, brought an timely sense of urgency to the floor.
Over the next four minutes Holmes would spend on the court, the Sixers went on a 13-3 blitz to seize their first lead of the evening. They outscored Orlando 21-3 to close the opening quarter, and 52-25 to end the half.
The Sixers’ margin expanded as large as 23 points before Saturday’s affair was done.
Leading the way for the Sixers was Joel Embiid, whose made his latest dominant display look easy. The All-Star pumped out 28 points (10-17 fg, 1-4 3g, 7-10 ft) and 14 rebounds for his 30th double-double of the season.
Ben Simmons was a key performer as well, orchestrating an offense that went into high gear on the heels of an uneven start. The rookie manufactured 17 points (7-11 fg, 3-4 ft), 4 boards, and 7 assists.
Holmes, meanwhile, posted 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 dimes in 21 minutes of relief, but his biggest impact went beyond the bounds of a box score.
“He brings energy,” said Simmons. “I love playing with him.”
The intangible was imperative to Saturday’s outcome.
Holmes Bides Time, Stays Ready
If you’re a fan who watches and follows the Sixers on a regular basis, Richaun Holmes’ instant energy, instant impact performance against Orlando probably didn’t come as much of a surprise. Regardless of where he’s fallen in the rotation during his three seasons with the team, the big man has always maintained focus, and stayed ready.
What was a little bit different about Holmes’ night on Saturday was how quickly Brett Brown summoned him into duty, doing so at the six-minute, 32-second mark of the first quarter. It was Brown's first frontcourt substitution of the contest.
“I came into the game knowing that I was going to play him,” Brown said afterwards. “That’s an example of just trying to keep somebody alive.”
During the “second-third” of the Sixers' season, which Brown defines as the period between Christmas and the All-Star break, Holmes appeared in 10 of the club's 23 games, averaging only 13.3 minutes.
In an expanded role Saturday, Holmes offered the Sixers a welcomed jumpstart after they had fallen behind 15-6.
“We understand there will be times that we will need him,” said Brown. “When we play him, we see what he brings to the table.”
While Holmes’ powerful, first-quarter alley-oop will probably get lots of loops, his early defensive activity loomed large. On the first defensive possession he was on the hardwood, Holmes aggressively fronted Magic center Nik Vucevic, and successfully contested a Vucevic jump shot
Orlando’s next trip down, Holmes forced Vucevic into a turnover off an errant pass. The Bowling Green product then factored in a third consecutive stop by challenging Aaron Gordon on a baseline fadeaway attempt.
With Holmes helping to ratchet up the defensive intensity, the Sixers were given time to find their rhythm on offense, which is exactly what they did.
Holmes’ mindset Saturday?
“Just do what I do,” said the 24-year old. “Run the floor, bring energy, rebound, got to play good defense, things of that sort. Also try to keep expanding on the lead, and play good basketball together.”
Check, check, check, check, and more checks.
In recent weeks, while minutes have been sporadic, Holmes has focused on the big picture.
“You just got to look at the blessing in every day,” he said. “You’re a professional athlete, you get paid to stay ready, so that’s my job description, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
“Richaun is my version of a...lightning in a bottle type guy,” said Brown. “When you go to Richaun, you do that in the back of your mind where he can provide that type of energy.”
And just like that, Holmes delivered, on cue.
Embiid Making it Look Easy
It’s now getting to the point where by halftime, Joel Embiid is putting up numbers that would typically constitute excellent nights for most players.
He had 18 points and 5 rebounds when intermission rolled around Thursday in Chicago. At the break Saturday against Orlando, the All-Star’s line featured 19 points and 8 boards.
“I would say he is one of the best players in the league,” said Magic head coach Frank Vogel.
Whether it was Nik Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, or anyone else from Orlando who tried to help the cause, the Magic had no answer for Embiid. Rare was there a possession on which the 7-footer didn’t seem to have complete comfort and confidence.
“I’m definitely getting better,” said Embiid. “I feel like the game is becoming easy for me. I’m just letting the game come to me.”
Extremely pleasing to Embiid was that for the third time this season, and first since a January 26th win at San Antonio, he completed a game without committed a single turnover.
“Coming back from the [All-Star] break, that’s an area I really wanted to focus on,” he said. “I think that’s the part I need to work on the most.”
By all accounts, it was a successful outing.
Bench Gets Key Reps
With just under six minutes remaining in regulation and the Sixers leading by 22 points, Brett Brown took out Ben Simmons, the last of his starters still left on the floor.
Although Orlando twice managed to get back within single-digits, Brown felt it was necessary for members of the Sixers’ reserve corps to guide the squad to the finish line.
“We have to grow our bench,” Brown said. “We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games, and they did.”
His decision to adopt this approach was deliberate, and proved valuable, especially with the Sixers set to play again Sunday in Washington.
Watching from the sideline, Ben Simmons was encouraged by how the second-stringers handled things.
“It shows they can close it down,” said the Aussie. “We have guys that are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five. The guys come out, and play hard.”
Recently-acquired guard Marco Belinelli ended the evening with a flurry, tallying 13 of his 15 points in the second half. T.J. McConnell notched 4 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals, while Trevor Booker supplied 5 points and 3 boards.
“To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead...it’s great,” Joel Embiid said. “In the playoffs, you need a bench to come in, and keep it up for the starters to finish.”
While it was primarily Richaun Holmes’ defense that got the Sixers going after a somewhat rocky start, this vicious deposit on the offensive end certainly was symbolic of the spirited presence the back-up big man brought to the court in Saturday’s first quarter
That's a nice alley-oop, Holmes. pic.twitter.com/2YntV5L2Tu
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 24, 2018
The Sixers wrap up their ninth back-to-back set of the season Sunday with a significant conference clash against the Washington Wizards. As of Saturday, Washington sat 1.5 games in front of the Sixers for fourth-place in the Eastern Conference standings. A 115-102 triumph over the Wizards on February 6th marked the start of the Sixers’ current surge. They’ve beaten Washington in two of the clubs’ three meetings on the year. The Wizards are still without John Wall, who underwent a procedure on his left knee one month ago.