Game Preview | With Ilyasova Back in Fold, Focus Now on Growing Role

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

The 76ers have a trusty, dependable forward back in the mix. Now, it’s a matter of continuing to figure out how to best utilize his multifaceted skill set.

Having spent 53 games together last season, Brett Brown and Ersan Ilyasova know each other well. As the fifth-year head coach said last week following Ilyasova’s signing, there are no mysteries between the two.

Things have changed, however, on the Sixers’ part, since Ilyasova’s first stint with the organization, which ended at the 2017 trade deadline.

Joel Embiid is at full strength, and doing dominant damage on just about an every night basis.

Ben Simmons has emerged as a game-changing two-way presence at the point.

Dario Saric, excellent as a rookie, has found even more ways to put his jack-of-all trades package to use, and serve as a consistent weapon.

And, as opposed to a season ago, when Ilyasova was the Sixers’ most experienced player, this time around, the 10th-year pro joins a deep cast of proven veterans consisting of JJ Redick, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, and Jerryd Bayless.

Still, even with the upgrades in talent the Sixers have made dating back to last summer, they still felt there was a place - an important, valuable, needed place - for Ilyasova on the roster.

“I think we have something unique,” Brown said following Friday’s 110-99 victory over Charlotte. “I really think that we have something unique.”

Given Ilyasova’s efforts in the comeback win, it was understandable Brown would make such a statement. The Turk was especially effective in crunch time, scoring 11 of his 14 points in a decisive fourth quarter that saw the Sixers outscore the Hornets, 36-19.

Brown said that moving forward, he plans to grow Ilyasova’s role in different ways. Friday’s contest might have offered a few glimpses how.

There was the productive three-minute run Ilyasova enjoyed playing alongside Saric at the beginning of the fourth quarter, during which the Sixers turned a four-point deficit into a one-point lead. Saric assisted on an Ilyasova lay-up…

...while Ilyasova wasted little time returning the favor.

Moments later, Saric again acted as Ilyasova’s set-up man on a triple that gave the Sixers their first lead since the first quarter.

Brown came away from Friday’s win feeling good about how Ilyasova and Saric played off one another. He then liked what he saw when he left Ilyasova on the floor to finish the game with Embiid.

“I put him and Joel in some pick-and-rolls, and they delivered,” said Brown, who praised Ilyasova’s abilities both as a passer and a cutter, a legit “throw-and-go” threat.

With the spotlight at its brightest in Friday’s fourth period, Ilyasova provided plenty of highlights, all the way down to the trademark charge he took with the Sixers up four, and less than 90 seconds left.

“To have him back [at] stretch four, he’s amazing defensively,” Embiid said. “I don’t remember the last time me or one of the guys took a charge, and we got someone that’s going to take charges every game.”

Ilyasova’s tied for third in the NBA this season with 21 charges drawn. He ended last year as the league-leader, with 36.

Having been part of eight different transactions and six different teams the past two-plus seasons, Ilyasova said Friday it was a “great feeling” to reunite with Brown and the Sixers. 

“I’m just glad it just worked out the way it did,” Ilyasova said. 

So too was Brown, who called Ilyasova’s addition at this late, critical stage of the year a “massive pick-up.” How Brown proceeds with deploying the big man will be a significant subplot for the home stretch.

Said Brown, “All over the place, whether it’s him making a three, him passing to Joel rolling, him taking a charge, him co-existing with Dario Saric, I think that flexibility, that versatility is what excites me the most.”

Opponent Outlook:

It was a tough week for Milwaukee (33-29), dropping all four of its games, with three of those defeats decided by 7 points or fewer. The Bucks head into Sunday’s implications-heavy match-up (8:00 PM EST; ESPN, NBCSP, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network) trailing the Sixers by 1.5 games for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The last time the two teams met, they also played at BMO Harris Bradley Center, with Milwaukee prevailing, 107-95, on January 29th. That night, the Sixers were without Joel Embiid. The Bucks’ All-Star, GIannis Antetokounmpo, went for 31 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 assists.

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Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network