Trailing, 60-56, at halftime, 76ers coach Brett Brown started Ersan Ilyasova to begin the second half and it made a major difference in Saturday’s opening-round 130-103 win over the visiting Miami Heat.
The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova had a rough first half, but he is a much better offensive option for the Sixers than Amir Johnson, who started at center for the injured Joel Embiid.
Replacing Johnson to begin the third quarter, Ilyasova gave the Sixers the spark they needed.
“It certainly changed the game for us,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
With Ilyasova leading the way, the Sixers outscored Miami, 34-18, in the third quarter, to take a 90-78 lead into the fourth.
Miami never seriously threatened from that point.
In addition to scoring 10 points in the third quarter, Ilyasova played his usual strong defense.
During the first half, Ilyasova had just seven points and was a minus-11. He shot just 3 for 9 from the field
By the end of the third quarter, he was a plus-1 and had 17 points. In the quarter, he hit all four of his shots, including both three-point attempts, for his 10 points, and also grabbed six rebounds in 10 minutes and 12 seconds.
“I try to always be ready no matter what the situation,” Ilyasova said. “This is the playoffs, you never know what to expect. This is one of those things, you have to make some adjustment going forward.”
With the Sixers trailing, 63-59, early in the third quarter, Ilyasova rebounded a missed shot on one end and then scored on a reverse layup off a Ben Simmons assist down the other end of the court, cutting the deficit to 63-61. He then gave the Sixers the lead for good, hitting a 27-foot three-pointer for 64-63 advantage with 9:32 left in the quarter.
Ilyasova would make several other big plays in the quarter, including a 26-foot three-pointer that increased the Sixers’ lead to 79-66 with 4:30 left in the quarter.
To begin the third quarter, Miami had center Hassan Whiteside on Ilyasova, and even though the Heat’s 7-foot center is known for his defense and shot-blocking ability, he was no match for the 30-year-old Ilyasova, now in his second stint with the team.
Whiteside is a good defender in the low post, but Ilyasova, with his perimeter game, was taking him away from the basket.
“We tried to spread the floor and execute,” Ilyasova said.
Ilyasova was waived by Atlanta on Feb. 26 and signed by the Sixers on Feb. 28.
In 24 regular-season games with the Sixers, he averaged 10.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.1 minutes.
During Saturday’s win, he finished with 17 points, shooting 7 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 4 from three point range, in 31:47. Ilyasova added 14 rebounds and finished the game plus-3.
He didn’t score in the fourth quarter but the tone he set in the third provided the major spark the Sixers needed, especially with Miami beginning to feel comfortable.
Ilyasova had appeared in 23 playoff games before this season and his veteran savvy was definitely on display in his first postseason game for the Sixers.
In one quarter, he helped change the Sixers fortunes, providing a 1-0 lead heading into Game 2 on Monday.