BOSTON – This was not Nerlens Noel’s first trip back home to play in front of family and friends who make the twice-a-year pilgrimage to see the Everett, Mass. native play against the Boston Celtics.
There have been rumors about him potentially returning for a longer stay – via trade to Boston – for months.
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Noel spoke out angrily after playing just eight minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers, but cooler heads have prevailed since then in large part because his biggest complaint – playing time – doesn’t seem to be as big an issue anymore.
Noel certainly made the most of his time on the floor Friday night, but it wasn’t enough to knock off his hometown team the Boston Celtics who prevailed with a 110-106 victory over the Sixers.
The 6-foot-10 forward certainly did his part to help the Sixers’ cause, scoring 13 points off the bench on 6-for-8 shooting with eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
It was his second-highest scoring game this season, one in which injuries have limited him to having appeared in just nine games.
“When I get out there I’m going to play my game,” Noel said. “I’m going to play at a high level. I’ve been able to stay mentally focused throughout this whole process, not let it affect my game. As time goes along, I’ll continue to keep progressing in the right way.”
Sixers head coach Brett Brown acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges he has faced this season is developing a rotation for the team’s glut of big men which includes Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric.
In Boston’s win over Philadelphia on Thursday, Okafor did not play (coaches decision).
“There’s a body of work now that is enough to make some assumptions, some decisions in a more reasonable way,” Brown said. “It’s not like we all just met each other. We’ve been doing this for a while. The great challenge is sometimes pairings aren’t as successful as you wish they were. What does that mean? The ripple effects when you put people in different positions trickles down to other positions. You’re trying to walk this line of development and finding wins; trying to find ways to compete.”
As challenging as it has been for Brown, dealing with it has required a level of patience that Noel admits has tested him.
“It’s been challenging,” he said. “But it’s trials and tribulations; you have to go through this in order to get to where you want to be. It’s been a long process the last three, four years. I’ve stayed with it and kept working on my game and try to make strides. I’ve done that but I still got some ways to. I really have to worry about what I can control.”
And despite all the rumors about being traded potentially to Boston, there’s absolutely nothing he can do about that one way or another.
“No matter what I’m still the same player,” Noel said. “Nobody can change me if I’m playing eight (minutes) or 38. I’m gonna go out and do my thing. Always have the mentality that I’m going to assert myself in any kind of situation. Time goes on and things take care of itself.”