Friday night proved what Doc Rivers has been saying.
“There are going to be nights when our bench is going to win games for us,” the 76ers coach said following a 113-107 preseason victory over the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis. “That’s a great thing to have.”
On this night, it enabled the Sixers to conclude their preseason with a 2-0 record. They’ll open the regular season Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center.
Against the Pacers (0-2), the Sixers were without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who has a non-COVID-related illness. Their sharpshooting offseason acquisitions in Danny Green and Seth Curry didn’t exactly scorch the nets from deep. And the team committed 26 turnovers while shooting 62.9% from the foul line.
Yet, it was key members of their second unit who helped the Sixers avoid an ugly setback.
Dwight Howard, who started in place of Embiid, and reserve center Tony Bradley combined to shoot 10-for-10 from the field.
Howard, 35, was solid, finishing with 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting in 16 minutes, 11 seconds. He had a competitive, physical matchup with Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis, who had game highs of 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Bradley added seven points on 3-for-3 shooting.
“You know Joel is the centerpiece and the main thing you want to do is always keep him healthy and keep him safe at all times,” Howard said. “And I know what my role is. I’ve been in the position that Joel is in now. So for me, it’s really just complement him anyway possible.”
Embiid didn’t make the trip to Indianapolis.
“We are just being safe,” Rivers said. “So I expect him to be ready for practice when we pick back up.”
The Sixers are off Saturday and will resume practice Sunday.
Reserves Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott had big games.
The trio combined to shoot 12-for-22 from the field and 10 of 17 on three-pointers. Their other teammates made just 1 of 14 three-pointers.
Curry missed both of this three-point attempts, while Green finished 1-for-4.
Milton had the second straight solid performance with a team-leading 15 points to go with 5 assists. He also made 2 of 5 three-pointers. Korkmaz (14 points) and Scott (12) both made 4 of 6 three-pointers. Rookie Tyrese Maxey scored 11 points.
There was a lot of focus on the substitution order. That’s because on Thursday Rivers said he had a good sense of who will be in his 10-man rotation.
The starting lineup will consist of Green, Tobias Harris, Embiid, Curry and Ben Simmons. In regard to the bench, the coach noted he had a good sense of who four of the five rotation players would be.
He, however, wouldn’t disclose the four names, guaranteeing it would be easy to figure out.
When asked about the guarantee, Rivers responded, “You will eventually [figure it out] when you keep seeing that same group.”
Milton, Korkmaz, Howard, and Scott were the first four off the bench in Tuesday’s 108-99 preseason victory over the Boston Celtics. Matisse Thybulle was the fifth reserve in that game.
With Howard starting, Milton, Korkmaz, Scott, and Bradley were the first four off the bench. Maxey was fifth followed by Thybulle.
Following Friday’s game, Rivers noted that Thybulle missed most of the preseason when asked what the second-year player needs to do to get regular minutes.
“We are just taking our time with him,” the coach said. “But I wouldn’t read into any rotations right now.”
Within the next 24 hours, the Sixers will sign point guard Frank Mason III to an Exhibit 10 contract and waive him, a league source confirmed. An Exhibit 10 contract is a one-year deal that guarantees that he will receive a training-camp invitation.
Exhibit 10 players get bonuses of up to $50,000 to sign with a team’s G League affiliate if waived. They have to play for the affiliate for at least 60 days to get paid.