LAS VEGAS -- If Friday’s game is an indication, the 76ers’ team in the NBA Summer League will be fun to watch.
Zhaire Smith was a dunking machine. Matisse Thybulle was a defensive pest. Norvel Pelle dominated the paint, and Marial Shayok displayed his shooting range.
In the end, the Sixers withstood a late Milwaukee comeback to post a 107-106 victory over the Bucks in the summer-league opener for both teams at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. The Sixers will face the Boston Celtics’ team at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Shayok, the 54th pick in last month’s draft, paced the Sixers with 19 points while making 3-of-6 three-pointers in a reserve role.
However, Smith was the most exciting player on the court. The second-year shooting guard finished with 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting, highlighted by three spectacular dunks. He was more relaxed and effective than in last season’s summer-league debut. Back then, Smith looked indecisive in a halfcourt setting and finished with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting.
A lot of last year’s indecisiveness was actually the result of putting too much pressure on himself.
"I’m coming in, 16th pick, first-rounder, " Smith said of last year. "I’m coming in like, ‘I’m going to drop 30.' But this year, I’m like, ‘Let’s just have fun and have the game come to me, do the little things and help the team win.’
“The game came to me and I just had fun with it."
While it was just a summer-league game, Smith’s performance Friday also displayed how far he has come since last season’s setbacks. He only played in six regular-season games due to a foot fracture and an allergic food reaction in September.
Smith was expected to make his debut in December after suffering the fracture in August. However, he didn’t play in his first NBA game until March 25. The Texas native had lost 40 pounds due to the allergic reaction that threatened his life.
“I just got stronger and stronger,” Smith said of his recovery. “I had an edge to me, like, ‘I just want to dominate.’ When I was in that hospital bed, I was wishing, like, I wished to be tired again [due to playing]. But just grinding, that just helped me.”
Pelle had 12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and nine fouls on Friday. He and Sixers backup center Christ Koumadje combined for 16 fouls in 36 minutes. Players are disqualified after 10 personal fouls in the summer league, compared to six in a regular NBA game.
Meanwhile, Thybulle mixed three steals with four turnovers. The first-round selection also had seven points on 2-for-6 shooting.
“For me, I turned the ball over more than I wanted to,” said Thybulle, the 20th overall pick in last month’s NBA draft.
“I made some mistakes in attacking the hoop and just rotating on defense,” he added. "But what I really wanted to be able to see out of myself was that I was able to get in the place defensively a couple of times, just be able to build on that.”
For Thybulle and his teammates, the early focus was trying to find their comfort level. They didn’t have a problem with that.
On the Sixers’ first defensive possession, Thybulle closed out and appeared to tip a corner three-point attempt. Shake Milton grabbed the defensive rebound and pushed the ball upcourt. From the foul line, he lobbed an alley-oop pass to Smith for a crowd-pleasing dunk.
“I just went up to get it,” Smith said. “It felt like my head was about to hit the backboard, so I had to duck. I couldn’t even figure out where I was going to land, because I jumped so high. It was crazy.”
Milton’s second assist came on a two-handed alley-oop dunk by Pelle. Milton finished with 15 points on 2-for-14 shooting (11-for-13 free throws) to go with seven assists and four turnovers.
The Sixers went on to take a commanding 32-19 lead into the second quarter. They took a 17-point cushion into the locker room at the half. The Bucks pulled within one point with 19.5 seconds remaining. However, the Sixers escaped with the win after Sterling Brown misfired on his desperation shot at the buzzer.
Terry Harris, the youngest brother of Sixers forward Tobias Harris, was among the Sixers who did not play in the opening game. The Sixers will identify certain players who won’t play in that day’s game throughout this summer league. Harris is scheduled to play Saturday.