Game Preview | With Energy, Readiness, Bench Leaving Mark

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN, NJ - At the end of the night, those polled inside the 76ers’ locker room were in agreement - the team’s bench play was pivotal to the club leaving the state of Texas with a revitalizing two-game sweep.

As Ben Simmons put it, “Everybody contributed, from the first guy to the last guy.”

The rookie was very much on point. 

The Sixers’ starting contingent - headlined by Simmons and Joel Embiid - had its moments, of course, in Houston.

But there was also Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s first-quarter blitz; T.J. McConnell’s continued steady, heady play; and Amir Johnson’s rugged interior relief. All ingredients were vital to the Sixers’ first win at Toyota Center since 2011.

Two days earlier, in the Sixers’ victory at Dallas (another first - in this instance, since 2005), the reserve corps combined for valuable contributions as well. 

“Great trip, man,” Johnson said after the Sixers’ 115-107 triumph over Houston. “We won, went to a baseball game [Game 5 of the World Series]. It makes us closer as a team, as a family to come on a tough road trip and beat two good teams, it just makes us better to see how we’re growing as a team.”

Against the Rockets, Johnson and Luwawu-Cabarrot were important in triggering the Sixers’ auspicious start. With a dogged presence inside, Johnson scored 6 points in the frame. Luwawu-Cabarrot, meanwhile, exploded for a string of 11 consecutive points - he finished with 17 - that lifted the team’s lead to 9.

By the end of the evening, Johnson had racked up 12 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, all season-high marks. The double-double was his first since an April 3rd, 2016 appearance with the Boston Celtics.

“It was solid,” Johnson said of his efforts. “I try to do my best just to help this team. I just find my way. Any time I do those things, or can help out the team, I’m fine with it. It doesn’t even have to be scoring - it could be screen-setting, it could be a tip out, just trying to do those little things for this team.”

McConnell also operates with a like-minded do-anything-whenever-asked attitude.

“Our bench has been playing well,” said McConnell, in the midst of a particularly productive personal stretch himself. He totaled 26 points, 4 3-pointers, 7 rebounds, and 13 assists in the Sixers’ wins in Dallas and Houston.

Similarly to Johnson, McConnell attributes the second unit’s recent success to “staying ready.” The group’s 17-point margin over its Houston counterparts Monday represented a new season-high. It was the second time in three games the Sixers won the battle of the bench.

“It’s just doing your job at the best of your capabilities,” he said, “and be ready for your opportunities.”

Another essential function - and responsibility - of the Sixers’ reserve stable, according to both Johnson and McConnell, is to constantly provide energy, whether through interactions with teammates on the sideline, or on the court, once they’ve been called into duty.

“Big time,” said Johnson. “I always got to stay positive, because it just brings a certain energy down when you’re on the bench not being ready. The crowd [in Houston] was a little short, so we had to just bring our own energy as teammates.”

The enthusiasm and support, Johnson says, comes from a genuine place.

“We see each other every day, so we constantly cheer each other up, encourage each other, and that’s what we should do. We constantly go out to eat, hanging out, stuff we can do as a team just to get to know each other. At the same time, we play together on the court, and we play well.”

As of late, that’s certainly been the case, specifically in respect to the bench.

Opponent Outlook:

The Atlanta Hawks (1-6) will arrive in South Philadelphia looking to snap a six-game slide, which has come on the heels of their lone victory of the season - a 117-111 win over Dallas on opening night. The Hawks have been productive from 3-point territory lately, shooting 38 for 90 (42.2 3fg%) their last three contests. Atlanta re-upped Ersan Ilyasova this summer; however, the former Sixer forward will miss Wednesday’s outing due to a knee bruise.

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