The Philadelphia 76ers walked away as winners on opening night with a 113-107 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday and they can thank their bench for it. The starting unit struggled as they began working out the kinks while also working through a new system and the bench came in and provided a big lift.
Shake Milton poured in 19 points while also playing impeccable defense against Wizards stars Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, Furkan Korkmaz had 11, Tyrese Maxey had six, and Dwight Howard had 10 rebounds. The Sixers needed all of that in order to win this game as the starters outside of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons struggled a bit.
“There’s gonna be games that starting unit is going to play great,” said Korkmaz on Thursday after practice. “Then, the second unit is going to play a little bad. Yesterday (Wednesday), I think the second unit did a great job.”
The second unit helped the Sixers build a 50-37 lead late in the second quarter before the starters came back in and the Wizards went on a big run to actually take the lead at halftime. That was followed by Philadelphia’s dismal third quarter where the starters could not muster a bucket until the 6:04 mark of the third quarter.
Coach Doc Rivers put the bench back in there and they helped get the team back in it a bit and then they helped space the floor for Embiid to dominate down the stretch.
“In the first half, we got a big lead,” Korkmaz added. “I think in the game, we got up 12 points in the first half, but it was a game, I think, at the end of the day win is a win, but I think the second unit did a helluva job.”
For Simmons, he was happy to see his teammates step up in a big moment. In order to get to where they want to go, they will need everybody on the team to step up and contribute. It can’t just be the starters every night so this is a good sign for them as a group.
“It’s huge,” Simmons said of the bench. “It’s great to see guys come in, execute plays, and get to our stuff. Then on the defensive side, get stops, and take pride in our matchups, defensively. Everybody’s got to be on the same page, especially if it’s the other way around. Our second group’s not getting it done, guys got to step up. That’s what this team is built on.”
Performances like the one on Wednesday also helps relieve some pressure on the starters. On nights when they just aren’t going to have it as they did in this one, the bench can come in and produce. The team has had struggles off the bench in the past, but this is a different team at the moment. The bench can also push the starters to perform better.
“Not pressure, it’s moreso, it feeds us,” Simmons finished. “We want to get going, too. When we see them killing it and it’s our time to go back in, we want to do the same, and that’s championship basketball. Everybody’s got to play their role and get it done.”
Philadelphia will look to continue to grow as a team when they take on the New York Knicks on the road on Saturday.