On an emotional evening when the 76ers honored the memory of Kobe Bryant and the eight other victims who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, the home team needed an early spark.
Trailing a struggling Golden State Warriors team by as many as eight points in the first quarter, the Sixers received a push from an unlikely source: backup point guard Raul Neto.
Neto scored 19 points in the first half to give the Sixers a 59-54 advantage. Never mind that Neto didn’t score in the second half. He gave the Sixers what they needed and they picked up their game over the final 24 minutes during Tuesday’s 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I could feel the energy was low from the beginning,” Neto said.
Neto entered the game with 3 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter and the Sixers trailing, 25-19. He didn’t come out of the game the rest of the half, playing 15:26 and making the most of his extended time.
“I was tired in the second quarter,” he said.
The 27-year-old can blame teammate Ben Simmons for his fatigue.
“As it was communicated to me, I was getting ready to have Ben come back in, and to Ben’s supposed credit as a teammate, he passed down the bench to one of my assistants, ‘Let’s let him [Neto] keep going,’ ” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose team improved to 31-17. “That is an interesting, selfless instruction, and so we did and he [Neto] rewarded us.”
In the first half, Neto scored a season-high 19 points. He was 7-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point range, and hit both of his foul shots. Neto also had two assists, no turnovers and a plus-11 rating.
“It felt great, to be honest,” Neto said. “I was just trying to be aggressive, staying confident.”
Simmons picked it up in the second half, scoring 15 of his 17 points.
Neto’s performance is key because shooting guard Josh Richardson is out with a left hamstring strain. That opens up backcourt minutes, especially since Richardson has also appeared at point guard.
Richardson suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Sixers’ 107-95 loss last Wednesday in Toronto. In Saturday’s 108-91 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers, Neto had nine points (making 2 of 3 from three-point range), three assists and three turnovers in 18:59.
Neto played just 5:18 in the final two quarters against Golden State, but he enabled Simmons to keep his minutes down. Simmons, who is averaging an even 36 minutes, played 27:16, his second-lowest total of the season.
In the previous nine games with Joel Embiid out because of a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons averaged 39.5 minutes. Embiid returned against Golden State and had 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Still, Brown is wary about playing Simmons too many minutes, so Tuesday served as sort of a breather.
“I think it helps a little,” Brown said about Simmons’ reduced minutes for one night. “I am sure he still feels bullet-proof at 23 years old. He plays so hard and he plays extended minutes and there is part of that I don’t feel entirely comfortable with, but he sure plays hard and doesn’t seem to sort of let off.”
Neto said he never talked with Simmons about having the reserve guard stay in the game during the first half, but he wasn’t surprised by the gesture.