It seemed like Corey Brewer had a smile on his face from the moment Brett Brown told him he’d be starting through his postgame availability.
Then again, in the short time he’s been around, it seems like this might just be the kind of guy Brewer is.
Signed last Tuesday to a 10-day contract by the Sixers, his eighth NBA team, Brewer was out there for anyone to snag. The 32-year-old wing has championship experience and started every game of a playoff series for the Thunder just a little under nine months ago.
But up until last week, he was on his couch. In Monday's win over the Rockets (see observations), he was starting in place of All-Star Jimmy Butler for a team with championship aspirations and asked to guard the most unguardable human on the planet.
I was happy. I get to play basketball. I’ve been sitting down, playing with my kids. I’ve been playing superheroes every day. I was really happy to get to play basketball. I’m a competitor. I love when I get to have a matchup like James Harden. It’s great. Let’s go.
As glad as Brewer was to be out there, this didn’t seem like an ideal matchup.
Harden came to the Wells Fargo Center Monday looking like the NBA’s clear MVP favorite — and it doesn’t seem particularly close. He’s been playing on another planet from the rest of the league.
But for how pleasant Brewer was during his pre- and postgame availability, there was definitely a different guy out there getting in the grill of the league’s most dominant offensive player. It was clear Brewer’s goal was to frustrate Harden.
He had some tenacity. There was swagger there,” Brown said. “I think Corey just set the stage. He set the table that spilt over with a pretty solid 48-minute performance defensively on [Harden]. For him to [finish] with eight free throws in itself is a good accomplishment.
Sure, Harden still poured in 37 points, but Brewer and company clearly got under his skin.
There were multiple possessions in which Harden grew visibly annoyed by his former teammate in the second quarter. After the second such instance, Harden was whistled for a foul, much to the delight of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.
The fans were so appreciative that a “Cor-ey Brew-er” chant broke out. Signed to a 10-day deal and playing in just his second game, Brewer is already a cult hero in Philadelphia.
It’s Philly. They hate you or love you. I’m glad they’re on my side right now,” Brewer said. “I fit right in, I feel. We got everything — we’ve got a guy like Jimmy, a guy like Ben [Simmons], we’ve got [Joel Embiid]. Everybody else, we just gotta try to fit in. It’s all about getting to the next level, and that’s getting to the Finals.
It’s amazing that a player with Brewer’s résumé was just sitting out there. The biggest knock on him is his inability to hit threes. Basketball has shifted to such a three-heavy sport — Harden being a prime example — that Brewer’s career 28 percent mark from three perhaps overshadowed his value.
You saw that value Monday. He’s a crazy long athlete that loves to defend. Brown mentioned when they signed Brewer that he envisioned the veteran wing flying down the court with Simmons in transition.
This all begs the question: How the hell was this dude out there?
“Isn’t that what life’s all about? You get an opportunity and you hope to deliver. He did deliver,” Brown said. “I think that's what stands out most to me is you have to imagine when you’re not with a team and you’re trying to get back in the league, what you have to do physically to come out and play 34 minutes …
“He’s good people and I’m thrilled he had the opportunity and to live it like he did.”
With how he performed Monday, Brewer certainly earned more opportunities.
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