Ilyasova shows Sixers fans what they've been missing

Ilyasova shows Sixers fans what they've been missing


In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center in his second stint with the Sixers, Ersan Ilyasova gave a resounding reminder of what the team’s fans had been missing.

Ilyasova was integral to the Sixers’ second-half comeback in a 110-99 win over the Hornets Friday night, recording 18 points, four rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes (see observations). Fifteen of those points came in the second half, as the Sixers outscored the Hornets 62-43 after intermission.

Every time the Sixers needed a big play, Ilyasova made it. He notched four points and an assist in an 8-0 Sixers' run after the Hornets took a 76-62 lead, their largest of the night. His three-pointer from the right wing gave the Sixers a 91-89 advantage, their first lead since early in the second quarter (see highlights). And the charge he took on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 1:24 left and the Sixers up 101-97 brought the house down.

Brett Brown, who played Ilyasova with the starters down the stretch, is a big fan of the veteran and all the elements he brings to the Sixers.

“All over the place, whether it’s him making a three, him making a pass to Joel (Embiid), rolling, him taking a charge, him coexisting with Dario Saric — I think that flexibility, that versatility is what excites me the most about him,” Brown said. “And it’s not like we don’t know each other. We know each other well. He knows the system well, though there’s still lots to re-familiarize with. But he’s a massive pickup at this stage, in my eyes.”

Brown still sounds like he’s trying to figure out where exactly Ilyasova, who the Sixers traded to the Hawks at last season's deadline, fits into his rotation. He played 10 players Friday night, including five minutes for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and 12 for Richaun Holmes. At one stage, Ilyasova played at center, in a small lineup alongside Saric. For most of the night, he was in his traditional power forward spot, alongside either Embiid or Holmes.

Embiid, who found Ilyasova for a nifty give-and-go basket late in the fourth quarter, is happy he’s getting a chance to re-connect with the veteran forward.

“I was excited to him have back,” Embiid said. “I told him, ‘Let’s do whatever we had going on in January last year.’ So I’m excited to have him back.”

As for Ilyasova, he chose the Sixers for a reason. He saw the growth of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the winning atmosphere building in Philadelphia, and he wanted to be a part of it.

“Joel was obviously great last year. And now healthy, he’s obviously playing at a high level,” Ilyasova said. “I think Ben Simmons, I didn’t play with him last year, but the way he sees the floor with his height, it’s a huge advantage for us.”

With his veteran perspective, does Ilyasova think the Sixers can be a threat in the playoffs?

“Of course, why not? When you look at the game we play, it’s all about us,” he said. “When we played against Cleveland, they’re probably considered one of the teams who will be in the playoffs, but we came out strong and beat them. I think when you look at this conference, everybody is close to each other, everybody’s beatable.

“I think from this point, it’s all about us. In the playoffs, you have to know one thing: In a seven-game series, it’s unique. Everybody studies each other, it’s a long series. And I think we’re capable of bringing something extra every game.”

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

Brett Brown’s witnessed many playoff battles during his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s when the stars shine brightest in an attempt to help their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s also when role players get an opportunity to change the course of a series and leave an imprint that lasts a lifetime.

Think Kenny Smith’s seven three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, Steve Kerr’s series-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Robert Horry in, well, too many games to count.

“Every one of my years with San Antonio, 12 of them, somebody came out of left field in one of the games for six minutes, maybe more, and had a significant impact on a win,” Brown said last week.

Sure, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to do the heavy lifting. But the real question is who else will make a significant contribution during those crucial postseason moments?

Robert Covington is certainly not planning to shy away from the big stage.

After three months of sliding production, the swingman has regained his shooting form at just the right time as the Sixers appear headed for their first postseason berth since 2011-12. Covington is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range with an offensive rating of 128 in March.

“My teammates have been pretty much finding me the same shots, but I just changed up a little bit of my workout, switched it up,” Covington said after scoring 18 points (6 for 12 shooting) in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets on Monday. “That’s what allowed me to get where I’m at now. My teammates have been finding me open spots. We’ve been moving the ball really well.

“That’s just doing the right things and waiting on that moment.”

Marco Belinelli knows all about seizing that moment. He’s played — and played very well at times — over the course of 48 career playoff games.

The Sixers got a taste against the Hornets of just how much of a boost Belinelli can give a team when he’s on target. The 10-year veteran scored 21 points off the bench and contributed five of the Sixers’ 18 threes as he sharpens his game for the major challenge on the horizon.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said of finding shooters such as Belinelli and Covington in addition to JJ Redick in close games. “It’s just the way we’ve been playing all year.”

With Justin Anderson now back in the rotation and contributing, it could be the performance of secondary guys that keep the Sixers playing longer than anyone expected before the season started.

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double


Around 6 p.m., Ben Simmons spoke about mental fatigue and the frustrations it can cause. 

An hour later, he hit the court and posted an 11-point, 12-rebound, 15-assist triple-double … with zero turnovers.

“I wish he was more mentally fatigued in the future,” Brett Brown said with a laugh. 

The 21-year-old rookie may be feeling the weight of his first NBA season, but he certainly didn’t show it Monday in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets (see observations)

Simmons recorded his third triple-double in the last four games. He exhibited disciplined court vision by finding his teammates with a high level of ease and chemistry that’s been developing over the season (see highlights).

“I was trusting them to knock down shots,” Simmons simply put it. “They make it easy for me.”

Simmons became the first rookie in the NBA to record a triple-double with 15 assists and no turnovers. Only David Robinson and Andre Iguodala had reached a triple-double without an error as rookies. 

Simmons considers his assists and turnovers to be the most meaningful stats of the triple-double, noting his turnovers usually are caused by mental errors. 

"That’s amazing," Joel Embiid said. "To be able to make the right reads and not turn the ball over, there’s a few guys in the league that can do that ... that just shows you that he can be a great point guard."

The 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game over 34 minutes. With each game that passes, Simmons continues to be linked with the feats of Hall of Famers. From joining in the same company as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to moving ahead of Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games by a Sixers rookie, his performances are often tied back to historical markers. 

“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game,” Simmons said. “It’s not about that. It’s a matter of points that we’re getting as a team and how many stops we get … 

"People are always going to say I need to do certain things but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m really good at.”