Spotlight | Fultz Returns, in Impressive Fashion

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

For a team on a roll, and having just one day earlier seized its first playoff berth in six years, Monday’s announcement less than two hours before tip-off that the 2017 no. 1 pick would be making an anticipated, somewhat surprise return was as compelling as it was dramatic.

But Markelle Fultz told Brett Brown he was ready to go, so the 76ers put the rookie guard back on the active roster.

Fultz didn’t disappoint. In fact, he seemed fresh and confident, turning in what was easily his best performance in five games as a pro.

Logging 14 minutes, 24 seconds off the bench exclusively at point guard, Fultz tied a career-high with 10 points (5-13 fg). He set a new personal-high with 8 assists, and manufactured 4 rebounds, plus an ultra-telling plus-16 rating. His turnover count was one.

In one sense, that Fultz was simply in position to put on his blue no. 20 uniform again before season’s end was an accomplishment. Since his previous appearance in an October 23rd outing at Detroit, he’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes and in the public eye to get back into playing shape.

The ovation Fultz received from Monday’s sold-out crowd upon checking in at the two-minute, 54-second mark of the first quarter was genuine and full-throated. It was certainly a nice moment.

With only weeks remaining in the regular season, the Sixers getting Fultz back is significant in another context as well. President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo said the 10 remaining games on the schedule, which included Monday’s 123-104 victory over the Denver Nuggets, will offer the Sixers an important end-of-year evaluation period in respect to Fultz.

As for Fultz’s involvement in Monday’s tilt, these were some sequences of note:

• The raucous cheers for Fultz started with just over four minutes to go in Monday’s first quarter, as he rose from the bench to sub in. He entered as part of a five-man swap along with Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Ersan Ilyasova, and JJ Redick.

• What would be one of the biggest rewards of integrating Fultz into the line-up at this late stage of the season? Adding a shot-creator off the dribble. This year’s top pick used a great move to get to the hoop for this driving score late in the opening period.

• Moments later, Fultz used his penetrating prowess to create a crowd, and set up Ilyasova for an elbow jumper.

• Fultz stayed out there for the first two minutes of Monday’s second quarter, and assisted on a pair of Covington threes. Fultz subbed out shortly thereafter, having put up 2 points, 3 assists, and a plus-4 rating in a productive five-minute, 32-second run. That was it for him for the first half.

• Fultz’s second stint started with three minutes, 21 seconds left in Monday’s third quarter. The Sixers were up four at the time, but Fultz, relying on his downhill gear, assumed a key role in generating some separation.

• At the outset of the fourth quarter, Fultz made some great reads, all the more impressive considering how long he’d gone without live game action. He handed out three more dimes in about two and a half minutes.

• Fultz took the floor for his third and final stint Monday with two minutes, 42 seconds remaining in regulation. It was just enough time to sink a pair of elbow jumpers, including the smooth swish below, and post two more assists.