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Georges Niang gets homecoming in Boston as Sixers face the Celtics

Niang, the reserve forward in his first season with Philly, is from Lawrence, Mass., about 25 miles from downtown Boston.

Sixers forward Georges Niang dribbles the basketball against Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell on Saturday, November 27, 2021 in Philadelphia.
Sixers forward Georges Niang dribbles the basketball against Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell on Saturday, November 27, 2021 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

BOSTON — When Georges Niang takes the floor inside TD Garden Wednesday night, he will look into the stands to see “who’s wearing a green T-shirt under my jersey.”

Niang has now been on both sides of the heated 76ers-Celtics rivalry. The reserve forward in his first season with Philly is from Lawrence, Mass., about 25 miles from downtown Boston. And after playing four seasons with Utah, Niang is happy he now gets two trips to his hometown each regular season instead of one.

“Obviously, I think they’re cheering for me,” Niang said of his family and friends who will be in attendance. “But there’s some people that bleed pretty deep when it comes to the Celtics.”

Niang was 14 when the Celtics won the 2008 NBA championship, and the seasons anchored by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen “definitely stick firmly in my mind.” That’s why getting a call from Doc Rivers, who coached that Celtics era, during free agency was particularly meaningful.

Niang is having a career season with the Sixers, averaging 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 38.7% on 5.7 three-point attempts per game entering Wednesday. Recently, he has been asked to play heavy minutes and multiple roles, including as a spot starter and as a small-ball center while several teammates were in COVID-19 health and safety protocols or injured.

“He’s a great spirit,” Rivers said of Niang ahead of Wednesday’s game. “High IQ. Shoots the ball. Has the competitive gene. ... We needed a guy like Georges. As far as a guy (on a) minimum salary contract, he’s been a huge asset for us this year.”

With the Sixers’ original rotation back for this intriguing four-game road trip, however, Niang can settle back into his expected role as a versatile stretch big. He is particularly happy to be sharing the floor with All-Star Joel Embiid in spurts again.

“Jo attracts a double team every time out,” Niang said. “So I’m excited to have him back on the floor, because that selfishly creates a lot of shots for me.”

Paul Reed back to G League

Second-year big man Paul Reed was reassigned to the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats Tuesday.

Reed had been toggling back and forth between the Blue Coats and Sixers in recent days, totaling 27 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks in Sunday’s victory over Raptors 905 before being recalled to Philly for Monday’s game against Orlando. But since the Sixers are on the road through Dec. 8, this stint with Delaware is likely to be longer for Reed.

» READ MORE: With their roster intact and a tough road trip ahead, we’re about to learn a lot about the Sixers

With the Sixers’ frontcourt replenished — along with the emergence of rookie center Charles Bassey — Reed’s minutes had dried up in recent games.

“He just needs some playing time,” Rivers said last week of Reed. “He struggles in execution a lot, so we want to really put him through it and let him play more minutes and see if he can get through it.”

Additionally, two-way guard Grant Riller injured his right shoulder in the Blue Coats’ Sunday game against Raptors 905 and will be re-evaluated in one week, a Sixers official said. Riller recently recovered from surgery from a knee injury sustained in Philly’s preseason opener at Toronto.

COVID-19 hits Rivers’ son, Austin

Rivers said prior to Wednesday’s game that he had spoken earlier that day to son Austin, the Denver Nuggets guard who just went into health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19.

“He said yesterday he felt nothing, and then today he felt terrible,” Rivers said. “… The first thing out of his mouth, he said, ‘Whoever doesn’t think this is real is mistaken. This is real.’ He said, ‘I’ve never felt like this before.’

“He’ll be good, but a lot of guys [are getting sick]. I’m worried again. Let’s see if we can get through this.”

The Sixers, of course, had Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe all in protocols within the past month. Embiid said his case was significant; that he struggled to breathe, had a headache worse than a migraine and “really thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was that bad.”

Among those who checked in with Embiid during his bout were Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who spent the 2019-20 season as a Sixers assistant. They also connected in person ahead of Wednesday’'s game.

“Obviously, somebody I spent a year with and spent a ton of time with before the bubble in Philadelphia, working individually,” Udoka said. “Got to know him a ton and consider him a friend and just was happy he’s doing well.”