It’s usually easy to notice when Robert Covington doesn’t play well. Missed threes, getting torched by the opposing star, bad fouls — the signs are obvious.
It’s not always as clear to recognize when Covington does play well, but everyone who watched the Sixers beat the Hornets on Saturday night, 105-103 (see observations), was reminded how important Covington is to this team.
Head coach Brett Brown said postgame Covington was the Sixers’ bell ringer (the player Brown chooses to ring a miniature replica Liberty Bell in the locker room after a win), and that’s no surprise.
Covington was excellent on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he was his usual, disruptive self with two steals and four blocks. Covington was tasked with guarding Kemba Walker, who entered averaging 30.8 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting. Walker scored 37 on Saturday, but he shot 11 for 31.
Much of his success came when Covington was off the floor. Covington guarded Walker late in the fourth quarter, and he shut him down when it mattered.
“Robert Covington played an amazing game on Kemba, made it tough for him to score,” Ben Simmons. “But also, you know, it’s Kemba, so he’s always going to score. But I thought he did a great job.”
A lot of what Covington excels at doesn’t show up in the box score — another 20-point, 10-rebound night from Joel Embiid is often going to get more headlines than solid off-ball defense and deflections.
Covington takes on the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s best player most nights. Through the first five games, he hadn’t played to the First Team All-Defense standard he set last year, and the Sixers' defense overall had't been very good. in fact, Covington's 112.7 defensive rating was actually second-worst on the team heading into the game vs. Charlotte.
But against one of the better scorers in the NBA, Covington knew he needed to be at his best.
“Short, quick, shifty, quick burst speed,” Covington said of Walker. “But I gotta guard some great superstars each and every night. So it was just another one of those tasks that I had to buckle down. We needed a win, so I had to do whatever it takes.”
Offensively, Covington hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game for the Sixers, a three-pointer from the right wing with just under two minutes remaining to put the Sixers up, 105-101. His 18 points (4 for 7 from three-point range) were needed on a night in which Simmons made just 5 of 20 field-goal attempts.
Covington knows his contributions tend to fly under the radar and he says that doesn’t bother him.
“From the outside looking in, a lot of people don’t understand what all goes into it,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in that. The people who understand the way the game is and how everything goes can get a better feel for it, how everything happens. You just can’t get caught in what they’re saying, you just have to focus in.”
There probably won’t be many more games this season where Covington’s value is so apparent to the casual observer. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are usually going to steal the show.
But on Saturday night, Covington made it obvious how integral he is to the Sixers’ success.
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