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After early struggles, Sixers reserves earned their keep and helped turn the tide in Philly

The Sixers' bench was once viewed as a hindrance, but they showed up on the team's road trip and became an asset.

The Sixers' Matisse Thybulle makes a defense play on the ball at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers' Matisse Thybulle makes a defense play on the ball at the Wells Fargo Center.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

From afar, it would be easy to assume the 76ers’ three-game winning streak was built on the backs of their stars: James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey.

With 86 combined points in the three games, Maxey led the way offensively. Meanwhile, Harden’s selfless play culminated Monday with 17 assists in a victory over the Washington Wizards, which tied a career high. And Embiid was the hero two nights earlier, draining a go-ahead three-pointer with 18.1 seconds left in a triumph over the Chicago Bulls — his lone game played during the winning streak.

Perhaps the key difference, though, beyond Maxey’s career-high 44 points in Friday’s victory over the Toronto Raptors, was the Sixers’ cast of role players asserting themselves more than in previous contests.

» READ MORE: 76ers vs Wizards odds, prediction: Bet on Philadelphia to pick up fourth straight win

On Friday, Matisse Thybulle (two blocks, one steal), De’Anthony Melton (13 points, five steals), and Montrezl Harrell (nine points, 4-for-4 shooting) all flourished.

On Saturday, the Sixers (4-4) closed out the first quarter on a 12-2 run with an all-reserve lineup of Shake Milton, Georges Niang, Harrell, Melton, and Thybulle. Niang finished with a season-high 15 points while making 3 of 4 three-pointers.

On Monday, Niang had 12 points while making 4 of 7 three-pointers. In the third quarter, he was in a lineup that included Danuel House Jr., Harden, Thybulle, and Harrell, which broke the game wide open.

It was only a week ago when this year’s bench was believed to be on equal footing with last season’s reserves, who struggled mightily.

“We were trying to figure out the rotation,” Niang said of the Sixers’ early struggles. “We were trying to figure out who did what. That’s why I never listen to, ‘You are never getting enough production from the bench’ and stuff like that because it’s too small of a sample size.”

» READ MORE: The Sixers work on moving the ball and picking up the pace

The seventh-year veteran has been in the NBA long enough to realize that teams learn from their faults and make adjustments.

In this case, the Sixers were terrible defensively through the first five games. So in the sixth game, Thybulle, a two-time All-Defensive second-team selection, became a part of the rotation.

Milton was also part of the rotation that game to provide a spark from the bench. And also around that time, Melton started to settle in.

“I’m starting to get used to the offense and what other players like to do on my team,” said Melton, who was acquired in a draft-night trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. “So I’m trying to go out there and play hard and make the right play, take what I feel like is open, attack on both ends, offensively and defensively.”

He’s definitely succeeding, averaging 12.4 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.4 steals over the last five games.

Meanwhile, in the last two games, Niang has averaged 13.5 points and shot 7-for-11 on three-pointers. In the last three games, Harrell is averaging 6.3 points on a combined 8-for-12 shooting after producing 1.4 points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first five games.

» READ MORE: Tyrese Maxey is learning the Sixers need him to be more selfish: ‘Isos are good for you, too’

“It’s a lot of dudes that work hard and I think we all want to,” Melton said of the reserves. “We all want to go out there, move the ball. We’ve got an understanding that we’ve got to play defense.”

The Sixers, especially the reserves, feel once they get stops, move the ball, and get out in transition, they’ll get open looks.

The backups will tell you they don’t care who gets the open looks. They just want to help the Sixers win.

”We’re trying to play the right way and make the correct play, whatever play that may be, really,” Harrell said. “I think that’s, more so, guys coming into the situation, guys trying to play the right way.”