2. The continued excellence of the supporting cast
All season, there has been conversation about the “deepest supporting cast of the Embiid era.” Part of why this season has felt different is because the Sixers have players beyond the core three or four who can actually be relied upon for positive-impact basketball late in the season. That was quite evident in Philly’s first round smackdown of Brooklyn.
Playoff P.J. Tucker is definitely real. His effort level on the defensive end really set the tone for Philadelphia in the first round. He’s still one of the best defenders in the NBA when locked in, capable of wrecking offenses with well-timed help or sheer force of will at the point of attack. He was everywhere for the Sixers in the Nets series and they will need more of that if there’s any hope of containing Boston.
Then there’s the bench mob. De’Anthony Melton will face several high-stakes matchups in a potential Boston series. A lot of minutes on Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, maybe some minutes mucking up the game for Derrick White or Malcolm Brogdon. The Sixers have never had a sixth man of Melton’s caliber, a legitimate defensive game-changer who can also get hot from 3.
We can also point to Paul Reed, who exerted a tremendously positive influence in his brief forays on the court behind Joel Embiid in round one. Then he absolutely dominated Game 4 starting in Embiid’s place, grabbing 15 boards (eight offensive rebounds) and blitzing the Brooklyn offense with his trademark defensive freneticism.
Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice put it best.
The Sixers have guys who can make things happen. That hasn’t always been the case. Gone are the days of aged-out vets plodding around the perimeter and getting torched in space. The Sixers finally have the athletes to hang with elite teams on paper — the only question is, does everyone step up?