As Playoffs Approach, Bolden Looks to Seize Opportunity

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

There was no singular performance Saturday at Target Center that definitively tipped the scales in the 76ers’ favor. It was that type of collective, balanced group win.

Of the 10 players that Brett Brown utilized, each one - especially the starters - would ultimately have a say at some point or another in the team’s 118-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Tobias Harris summoned up a string of key late baskets. Jimmy Butler, in his return to the Twin Cities, was a rebounding force. Ben Simmons was as in control on offense as he was versatile on defense. JJ Redick was his steady self.

Then there was Jonah Bolden, because there was no Joel Embiid. With the All-Star slated to sit out the Sixers’ current three-game road trip due to load management, the rookie got the nod in his absence.

In short, Bolden was terrific.

On one end, it was as if Bolden couldn’t miss, nailing a personal-high five 3-pointers, en route to racking up a career-best 19 points.

On the other side of the court, Bolden helped the Sixers command the backboards. He hauled in eight rebounds, four of which produced extra possessions. He also tallied three blocked shots, and finished with a plus-22 rating.

Not bad for a guy who entered Saturday evening having logged 20 total minutes while appearing in just three of the Sixers’ previous nine games.

“There has to be work going on behind the scenes to allow him to be able play at the high level that he did and physically just stay on the floor,” Brown said.

And there has been.

Regardless of what Bolden’s role has called for recently, or whether he’s been with the Sixers or Delaware Blue Coats, the 2017 no. 36 pick has zeroed in on his shot.

Saturday, the results showed.

Bolden’s goal was simply to make the most of his playing time.

“It was obviously a big win for us,” said the Australian, whose final 3-pointer at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter put the Sixers up by nine points, and essentially clinched Saturday’s win. “Coming in, the focus was on shutting down some guys defensively. I think as a team we did that.”

Prominent among that group of “some guys” was two-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, and he just so happened to be Bolden’s defensive assignment. Bolden played Towns physically, never letting him get too comfortable.

Bolden’s efforts in Minneapolis would have been impressive under any circumstances, but with two weeks remaining before the start of the playoffs, time is running out to make a case for post-season minutes.

His approach Saturday reflected appropriate urgency.   

“When it comes down to playoff time, the rotation does shorten up,” Bolden acknowledged. “The opportunity is now, whether the opportunity is now or in the playoffs, just making the most of it whenever it comes.”

Based on size, strength, athleticism, ability to stretch the floor, and defensive versatility, Bolden brings a specific profile to the Sixers’ big man stable.

“Defensively, he’s long,” Ben Simmons said of his fellow countryman. “Offensively, he can shoot the ball. He knows how to play. He makes the right moves. He has a high IQ.”

Come the playoffs, who knows? Perhaps there will be certain situations or opponents that warrant Bolden’s skill set.

“It’s been no secret that the decision of what do you do behind Joel Embiid is on the table,” said Brown. “A lot of it is who are we guarding. That back-up five, we have options.”

In Embiid’s absence against the Timberwolves, Bolden proved to be a good one.

“I expect the most from him, whether he hasn’t played games or whatever it is, to come in and make plays like that,” said Simmons. “Just make sure he stays ready and focused - because he’s a big part of our team.”

Saturday, the reminder was loud and clear.

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