3. The supportive supporting cast
The Sixers’ depth has been a hot-button topic this postseason and especially in this series. While the Sixers might not be able to go eight, nine, or 10-deep like the Celtics, the supporting cast stepped up in a major way Tuesday night.
Remember when James Harden to a big pay cut to help the Sixers (tamper and) sign P.J. Tucker and Danuel House? Well, Tucker’s defense and leadership has been invaluable all postseason. House came off the bench ice-cold after weeks of DNP-CDs to lead the bench in scoring and provide excellent defense on the perimeter.
De’Anthony Melton was spectacular on the defensive end. Daryl Morey got him for a late first-round pick and Danny Green’s expiring contract. Tyrese Maxey dropped 30 points. Tobias Harris bounced back from his dreadful Game 3-4 stretch with 16 points and solid defense. The Sixers are getting quality contributions from across the roster. That just wasn’t happening in years past.
Over the years, we have seen Philly’s bench units get bodyslammed in this time of year. Now it’s Paul Reed, House, Melton — these are plus defenders who can actually hang with playoff-level offenses. Tucker might not score, but he’s going to make every hustle play, fight for every rebound, and make sure to get in Embiid’s ear when he’s not playing right. That kind of leadership is invaluable, and of course the Sixers never had a player like that in years past. Embiid would struggle or play passively, and the Sixers would just have to live with it. Not anymore; Tucker will let him hear it.
It’s strange to watch the supporting cast play a significant role in the Sixers taking a series lead over the Boston Celtics. Philly’s competitive aspirations have never felt more real. Now, they just have to finish the job.