The Philadelphia 76ers have a 3-1 series lead over the Miami heat going into Tuesday’s game. The team’s “glue guys” have played crucial roles for Philly.
What do Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, and Ersan Ilyasova all have in common? They all come off the bench, play with intensity and grit, and oddly enough, have played instrumental roles in building the Philadelphia 76ers‘ first-round playoff series lead to 3-1 over the Miami Heat.
Anderson and McConnell play the enforcer roles for the Sixers against an extremely physical Heat squad, and the former has made the life of future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade miserable so far. The two players have not played major minutes in any game: Brett Brown hasn’t given either more than 10 minutes of playing time in any game this series. Brown uses those guys as pawns in the chess match that is this series by letting them loose to give the Heat a taste of their own medicine.
Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Kelly Olynyk caused the Sixers problems with their physicality early in the series, so Coach Brown had to adjust, and he did so masterfully. Speaking of adjustments, Brown elected to start Ilyasova in Game 2 in Joel Embiid‘s absence, and it was a solid decision.
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The Philadelphia 76ers dropped that game by a score of 113-103, but Ilyasova hung 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Heat cranked up their physical approach on the perimeter in that game which led them to the win, but Ers-quake thoroughly outplayed Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, the two men with the unenviable task of defending the Sixers in the paint. Whiteside started that game for the Miami Heat, but he played just 15 minutes as he picked up four fouls.
The glue guys do all the dirty work for the Sixers, mostly the tasks that Brown does not want the stars to do. T.J. McConnell is always the first on the floor when he sees a loose ball, Justin Anderson always fires up his teammates with words of encouragement or thunderous dunks, and Ilyasova constantly takes charges and sets hard screens to free his teammates.
Although every playoff team needs top-tier talent like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the glue guys need to step up in the postseason in order for a team to threaten the rest of the field. As soon as Joel Embiid gets back into the flow of the offense as he recovers from his injury and learns to play with the mask, the Sixers will return to the form they showed on their 17-game winning streak.
The Sixers have a chance at winning their first playoff series since 2012, and in order to push the Heat aside, Brown will need his role players to perform to the best of their abilities, and so far this series, they have done just that.