Veterans step up to secure 15th straight win for the Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 121, Atlanta 113 – Box Score

In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers tested the very outer limits of just how many young stars could be out or under the weather before jeopardizing the team’s chances of winning. Joel Embiid spent the night sending out a picture of himself with a mask on social media. A mere 13 seconds into the game, Dario Saric caught an inadvertent elbow from John Collins, suffering a cut lip and chipped tooth; the Homie would not return to action. Questionable entering play with a stomach flu, Ben Simmons had flashes of brilliance, but was clearly not his dominant self from the past few weeks, having as many turnovers as assists (6 of each).

Fortunately, the Sixers roster is now more than a collection of young, raw talent. With those core players recuperating or ailing, facing a Hawks team heading for the lottery but clearly still trying on the court, it was the old geezers (i.e. the guys in their 30’s) to the rescue!

Whenever Philadelphia needed a big bucket, they would set a pick for J.J. Redick to come off the left wing to the top of the key for an open look from three. More often than not, he canned the shot, making 6 of 9 attempts from downtown for a game-high 28 points. Redick also continued to show off his off-the-bounce chops, dishing out 5 assists, including a very nice shovel pass in traffic to Amir Johnson underneath the basket for a pivotal hoop in the fourth quarter.

Speaking of Johnson, the big man had arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Most of those dishes were hand-off-type plays to teammates coming off screens for threes, but one was a backdoor bounce pass to Redick right on the money for a reverse lay-in. The scoring was what we’ve come to expect from Amir, flipping up awkward-looking hook shots in traffic or pure hustle plays around the basket. Not House of Highlights-worthy stuff, but 2 points is 2 points.

The vets off the bench made their marks on the game as well. Assuming a bigger role with Saric injured early, Ersan Ilyasova went off for a Sixers season-high 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. The Professional shot 4-8 from downtown, while also utilizing the threat of his outside shot a couple times to pump fake and step in for a shorter jumper or drive to the hoop. Meanwhile, Marco Belinelli did Marco Belinelli things, making 5 of 12 from behind the arc for 20 points. I thought this one-footed, off-balance, banked three perfectly encapsulated his tenure in Philadelphia.

The Sixers will need all hands on deck one more time for the season finale tonight against Milwaukee. The Bucks could finish anywhere from 6th-8th in the East depending on tonight’s outcome, but maybe they would want to finish 7th and get the injured Celtics in the first round? They also owe a first-round pick to Phoenix that is protected #17-30 and they’re right on the precipice of that level, so it’s hard to know whether they would prefer the pick defers another year or not. Basically, Milwaukee’s motivation is very much up in the air.

Saric’s status won’t be known until after a dentist’s visit today. A win (or a very unlikely Cleveland loss against the Knicks) and Philadelphia will secure the coveted 3rd seed in the East. It’s also one more chance for Ben Simmons to cement his Rookie of the Year case against Donovan Mitchell, who apparently doesn’t know what the word “playing” means. Let’s see a 16th straight win heading into the playoffs!

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