Justin Anderson scored 11 points and played a major defensive role in the Sixers’ 120-116 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.
It was just his 29th game of a season that has been marred by nagging injuries. Anderson missed 23 consecutive games because of shin splints from Nov. 18 to Jan. 3, then missed eight games because of an ankle sprain before returning on March 6.
Anderson also has racked up a few DNPs when he has been healthy, making finding a rhythm difficult, but it doesn’t stop him from being ready when his number is called.
“The discipline and professionalism to stay ready is hard,” coach Brett Brown said. “How do you stay positive? How do you stay in shape? How do you truly become a part of the team even when you’re not playing? That’s hard to do, and he can do that. He’s stayed engaged, I respect what he does very much, and tonight he was rewarded.”
Averaging just 5.7 points and 2.3 rebounds heading into the game, Anderson wasted no time despite having played a combined 7 minutes, 57 seconds in his last two games. Seeing that Brooklyn was giving him the room to shoot, he hit back-to-back threes in the first quarter.
“The other team told me they didn’t respect my jumper because they were going under screens,” Anderson said after the game. “I was always taught to raise up over if they go under. Luckily, my teammates put me in a good position to catch them in rhythm and go up and shoot.”
Though offensively he found success early in the game, it was defensively where Anderson made the biggest difference on Friday.
With the Sixers up by just one point with 35 seconds left to play, Brown subbed Anderson in. Spencer Dinwiddie had the ball at the top of the key and the plan was to force him to the side toward the baseline. The plan worked.
Dinwiddie drove left and Anderson made sure to stay between him and the basket, then once he was down low, Joel Embiid came over. The two trapped Dinwiddie on the baseline and when Dinwiddie tried to get off a shot, he was met by a sea of hands and lost the ball out of bounds.
T.J. McConnell came in for Anderson for the offensive possession, and after he hit two free throws to put the Sixers up, 118-115, Brown brought Anderson back in for defense.
“Tonight he confirmed what we all think in relation to him being able to help us,” Brown said.
Anderson said it means a lot to him that his coach trusts him in the late-game situations and that Brown has confidence in what he can do on the defensive end.
The Sixers need their deep bench to stay ready and have the ability to impact a game. Brown said that in his 12 years on the Spurs’ coaching staff there was always a time in the playoffs when a low-minutes guy came in and played a significant role or had a key play.
In his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks, Anderson got some playoff experience against the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging 9.4 points in five games.
“Coach can trust me in those moments,” said Anderson, 24. “I almost feel like I play better in those moments because the crowd is going crazy or the crowd is completely against you. Those are the fun times.”
With just 14 games left in the regular season, and the Sixers trying to climb the ladder that is the Eastern Conference standings, Anderson knows that his minutes are not guaranteed and there could be nights that he doesn’t play.
“I understand that I’m young in the league and that I’m growing and I’m learning from a lot of great veterans,” he said. “But I’m going to always stay ready just because I just want to win. That’s all I want to do.”