There’s not much a coach hates more than building a lead, taking out the starting unit, then watching that lead dwindle away. It’s a scene that Brett Brown is familiar with, but for two consecutive games, the Sixers have maintained their advantage and been able to give their stars some rest.
Rest for the Sixers starters is invaluable, especially for Joel Embiid. In his first completely healthy season, the Sixers' franchise star, is putting up MVP-worthy numbers, but he’s also logging a ridiculous amount of minutes.
Before the Sixers blowout win over the Knicks on Wednesday, Embiid was second in the NBA (behind Kevin Durant) in total minutes played. Brown came under some criticism following the 117-91 win over New York when, despite a 25-point lead going into the fourth quarter, Embiid remained in the game for another 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
In Friday’s 123-98 win over the Washington Wizards, a game where the Sixers led by as many as 35 points, Brown took Embiid out with 5:37 left in the third quarter, and sat the rest of his starters by the 2:42 mark of the third.
“We’ve all remembered being in that situation, and you blink and we’ve had to bring people back in,” Brown said after the win over Washington. “We’re all geniuses when you’re looking at the scoreboard and you’re like why? I get it. I feel the same way too, I do. But I’ve also been sitting on that chair where I’ve seen leads evaporate.”
Memory had Brown playing it safe on Wednesday, but against the dysfunctional Wizards he felt a little more comfortable resting Embiid and Co., which is good, considering how difficult it could be getting the 7-foot-2 center to take some time off.
Earlier in the season Embiid quipped that if the coaching staff asked him to take a game off it would not go over well.
“I would kill them,” he said with a laugh.
That’s the kind of competitive attitude you definitely want to hear from your star player but it doesn’t lend itself well to the preservation of his body, so any time Brown can play Embiid just 22 minutes in a game, as he did Friday, he’ll take it.
The win over the Wizards proved not only to be an opportunity for rest, but a chance for the rest of the roster to shine. Eight players finished with double-digit scoring efforts, every player who logged playing time scored, and Shake Milton made his NBA debut.
The 54th pick in the 2018 draft, Milton has been spending the majority of his time rehabbing from a summer injury with the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers G League affiliate. On Friday, with 10:31 left in the fourth quarter, Milton checked in for the first time with the Sixers. Fifteen seconds later he hit a three-pointer on his first ever NBA attempt.
“It felt good,” Milton said after the game. “I mean, three months ago I wasn’t even able to run. Just being to the point where I am now is motivating and makes me want to work harder.”
Milton suffered a stress fracture in his back during pre-draft workouts and was not able to play summer league ball. Despite the injury the Sixers signed Milton to a two-way contract. Since returning to the court and getting reps with the Blue Coats, Milton has been receiving positive feedback from the coaches and it paid off on Friday.
“You see the game getting farther and farther apart and you start to think maybe I’ll have a chance to get in,” he said.
Though he admitted that he was nervous before checking in, after his first shot went down, he said all his nerves melted away. Two possessions later he blocked a Tomas Satoransky shot, and his teammates couldn’t have been happier.
“Especially since he was playing well, knocking shots down, finding guys, it was good to see,” Ben Simmons said.
In all, Milton finished with five points, two assists, one steal, and one block in his NBA debut.