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.”

If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

The Sixers have 24 games left, and each one of them matters with playoff seeding at stake. But their March 20 matchup vs. the Celtics might matter a little more than the others as the Sixers will aim to avoid a season sweep against Boston.

Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss how the Sixers can beat the Celtics if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.

Monday, they looked at who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation (see story).

Wednesday, they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.


While the new-look Sixers will likely be a better team the next time they see the Celtics, there’s plenty to take from the previous matchups.

Some teams are a tough matchup for Joel Embiid and others for Ben Simmons. Boston is the rare team that gives both All-Stars problems. Al Horford is the rarest of players that can guard both. 

Most NBA fives are susceptible to Embiid’s pump fakes or they can’t keep up with his footwork, often leading to fouls. That’s not the case with Horford, who has the discipline, strength and quickness to hang with Embiid. It’s a matter of Embiid making better and quicker decisions — especially against double teams.

With Simmons, it’s just about valuing the basketball and picking his spots to be aggressive. Boston is excellent at getting back in transition, where Simmons normally excels. Simmons is often better when he’s attacking, but against the Celtics he may be better off letting the game come to him, like he did last Tuesday.

The other thought, knowing how much Embiid and Simmons have struggled vs. Boston, is to run the offense more around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. 

Butler was the best player on the floor against the Celtics last week. We’ve briefly seen the Butler experiment at point guard. I’d be interested in seeing it more against Boston. It could allow Butler to be in control of the offense and allow Simmons to play a traditional four spot.

Harris struggled in the loss last week, but had good looks. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks, so Brown and his teammates are still figuring Harris out and how he fits in the offense. They have 24 games to find the best way to get Harris more involved. Doing so could come in handy if they face the Celtics again in the playoffs.


I think there are three keys to the Sixers beating the Celtics: 

1. Make Joel Embiid’s life easier
We know Al Horford defends Embiid very well. Embiid just can’t draw fouls or score inside with ease against Horford the same way he does against other big men. That’s fine.

The Sixers can help Embiid by spacing the floor properly when he gets the ball, making the occasional, smart split cut off him, and recognizing that he’s not always going to be their best offensive option. Sometimes Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler are going to be the right player to turn to down the stretch.

2. Play to Ben Simmons’ strengths
The current reality is Simmons, without a reliable jump shot, likely won’t be as effective offensively vs. the Celtics as he is against others teams. Boston does a great job neutralizing the athletic advantage Simmons usually possesses. Again, that doesn’t have to kill the Sixers.

I’ve mentioned it a bunch in the past, but it bears repeating — Simmons has gone from a poor post player (21 for 70, or 30 percent last season) to one of the better post-up players in the NBA this season (50 for 99, or 50.5 percent).

It would make sense for the Sixers to use Simmons more at the power forward spot than normal vs. Boston in lineups with Jimmy Butler or T.J. McConnell at the point. 

3. Prioritize defense
As we saw last season, Boston is masterful at exposing defensive liabilities. Players like Furkan Korkmaz can’t see the floor against the Celtics. JJ Redick’s minutes might need to go down. McConnell, though he’s been very good recently against the Celtics, will probably only be playable if he’s asked to defend smaller guards like Terry Rozier. 

In all likelihood, Brett Brown will need to ride his best defensive players — Butler, Embiid, Simmons and Harris. The Sixers have the talent to beat Boston, but Brown has a challenging task navigating the matchup troubles which the Celtics present. 

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Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

If you're a Sixers fan, you better hope the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is not a real thing.

The Sixers' new, formidable starting five is on this week's cover of SI, posing around the words "Process This." You'd imagine Sam Hinkie is reading with pride. 

Interesting to note how all five guys have a hint of a smile besides Joel Embiid. His competitive side sometimes gets overshadowed, but Embiid definitely looks like he means business on the cover with that cold stare into the camera.

Tobias Harris wishes his teammates had gone all-in on the smile.

In the issue, The Crossover staff at SI re-previews the highly competitive Eastern Conference, taking stock of where the Sixers, Celtics, Bucks and Raptors stand after an eventful trade deadline.

So did Philly just build the most talented team in the East — or a very expensive runner-up? Whatever the answer, the experiment seems an appropriate extension of the Process," Andrew Sharp writes. "You don’t have to love every move, but you can’t help but admire the ambition.

Fair enough. 

Eleven years ago, Elton Brand was on the cover.

The question then was, "How far can Elton Brand take the Sixers?" It's still a relevant question, although at this point, the Sixers' fate falls largely on the team Brand has helped assemble. But there's no doubt Brand is again a big part of the Sixers' return to the national spotlight.

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