Small lineup put Sixers back in game in opener

SIXR19-M
Sixers coach Brett Brown hugs Jerryd Bayless after the guard hit a three-pointer against the Wizards.

WASHINGTON  —  Entering the fourth quarter Wednesday night, the 76ers trailed the Wizards, 90-82. Coach Brett Brown elected to start the final period with a small lineup of Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric.

In a little less than two minutes, that group took a one-point advantage and rattled the Wizards. The 11-2 run was the reason the Sixers stayed in the game, making it a back-and-forth fight to the end.

“I like the mobility of that group,” Brown said after the game. “That’s the luxury we have.”

Breaking it down

Bayless grabbed the ball after the Wizards’ Mike Scott missed an off-balance floater from 15 feet. On the other side, Tim Frazier committed a foul, giving the ball to the Sixers on the sideline. Redick inbounded the ball to a rolling and wide-open Bayless, who came off a screen set by Covington. Wizards up, 90-84.

Then came Washington’s only points during the run. Bayless was caught in a mismatch after a switch and Scott scored. Wizards, 92-84.

Simmons did what he does best  —  he drove hard into the paint, drawing the defense  —  and missed a short shot, but stayed with the play, grabbing the rebound. Instead of fighting through the pack of Wizards, he passed behind him to Covington, who knocked down an open three. Wizards, 92-87.

The smaller group was quicker and more agile on defense. Redick deflected a pass and nearly came up with a steal. After the Wizards recovered, they were deep into the shot clock and Scott shot a three that was short.

Simmons repeated his drive, drawing three defenders into the paint. This time, he anticipated the action and passed to a trailing Redick, who faked and swung the ball to Bayless for a wide-open corner three. With 10:32 on the clock, the Wizards’ lead was cut to two points.

Washington coach Scott Brooks called a timeout to try to break the momentum and get the game back on his side.

Coming back into the game, the Sixers defense continued to keep the Wizards on the perimeter. Covington forced Kelly Oubre Jr. to shoot a three over his extended arms. The shot was again short, and Covington grabbed the rebound.

Covington made a long pass to Redick. After two quick dribbles, the trusted shooter was in position and hit a 25-foot three-pointer. And, just like that, with 10:02 left to play, the Sixers had the lead, 93-92.

What we learned

The defensive ability of the small group put pressure on Washington and was able to keep up with quick passes and close out when the Wizards tried to swing the ball to the weak side.

Unlike the Sixers’ smaller lineups of the past, this one has veteran experience and reliable shooters. With the attention that Simmons demands when he drives, the opportunity is there with a spaced floor.

While the Sixers fell short at the end of the season opener, 120-115, they found success with the small group, which will be important in the future.