The question of whether James Ennis would return to the court Monday night for Game 2 of the Sixers’ series against the Nets was not quite as important as whether Joel Embiid would be active.
It says something about the state of the Sixers’ bench, however, that Ennis’ status was significant. Ennis, limited to 12 minutes in his first game back from a right quad contusion which he aggravated on April 3, had six points, three rebounds and an assist, and he played solid perimeter defense in the Sixers’ 145-123 win over the Nets (see observations). Perhaps more importantly, his return prompted Brett Brown to shuffle the roles in the Sixers’ rotation.
Jonathon Simmons and T.J. McConnell, who combined for 26 minutes in Game 1, didn’t play any until the outcome was sealed. With Ennis available, the decision to take Simmons out of the rotation likely was not too difficult. But Brown, always fond of McConnell, found the choice to remove him more challenging.
First, that's a difficult decision because T.J. has been sort of a part of our bloodline for awhile. The energy that he injects is contagious and we all get that. If you study that stat line from the game that we lost, [he was a plus-12], which is pretty good. So you started looking at the ripple effects of what can the others do from a spacial standpoint — James' ability to stretch the court a little bit more, try to get Jimmy [Butler] the ball as a legitimate backup point guard when Ben [Simmons] wasn't on the court influenced that decision. I thought T.J. handled it as we all thought he would. He's a wonderful teammate.
The one reliable piece in both Games 1 and 2 for the bench was Boban Marjanovic. The Nets have been giving him space to shoot midrange jumpers and — often after glancing around for an open teammate and realizing he’s still free — he’s happily accepted. Marjanovic has 29 points on 13 for 21 shooting in 31 minutes this series.
“We already played one game and I figured out this is my thing,” Marjanovic said. “I didn’t take [jumpers] in my career a lot, but I can shoot, to be honest.”
The 7-foot-3 Marjanovic takes pride in his defense as well. He understands opponents are itching to make him defend on the perimeter, but he playfully took exception to a question about how he’s been able to guard quicker players.
"Somebody's quicker than me?” he asked. “I’m joking. Of course my advantage is my size, to be honest. I know I'm not fast, but I'm not so slow. I use my height. It's my advantage and helps me a lot.”
Marjanovic wasn’t even considering the possibility that he might be required to step into the starting lineup if Embiid’s left knee injury worsens.
"Why would he sit out? Nobody can defend him,” he said. “Why would he sit out?"
Another key part of the bench’s effectiveness in Game 2 was Mike Scott knocking down the shots he normally hits. After a 1 for 8 shooting performance in Game 1, Scott shot 5 for 7 (3 for 5 from three-point range) Monday night. He had 15 points, one of five Sixers to score between 15 and 23.
“That’s how it has to be — play together,” Scott said. “Everybody’s going to score, everybody’s going to eat. We have a talented group.”
The winner of the much-discussed “tournament” for backup wing minutes, Ennis said he “has no clue” whether he’ll still be on a minutes restriction for Game 3, noting that decision would be determined by the training staff. For now, he said he’s aiming to make the most of the time he gets.
He enjoyed his 12 minutes on the floor and a stress-free fourth quarter.
“We just shared the game,” Ennis said. “Everybody had a good time out there, everybody was cheering each other on, the bench was into it. It was a good overall team win.”
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