LAS VEGAS — By now, most sports fans in the Philadelphia area know Zhaire Smith and Mikal Bridges will be forever linked.
It has something to do with the 76ers’ drafting then trading Bridges, the hometown hero, to the Phoenix Suns for Smith and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick.
Well, Bridges and Smith met on the court for the first time as professionals Thursday night in a summer league first-round game at Thomas & Mack Center.
In a surprise upset, the Sixers prevailed, 88-86, to advance to a second-round game against the Milwaukee Bucks at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The Suns (3-1) will face the San Antonio Spurs in a consolation game Friday night. The Sixers (1-3) were seeded as the worst of all 30 summer-league teams here.
After the game, Bridges gave the impression that facing the Sixers, who drafted him 10th overall, was no different from playing any other squad.
“There are a lot of teams in the NBA. It’s another team we play against,” said Bridges, whose mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is the Sixers’ vice president of human resources. “I wasn’t really worried about the Mikal Bridges playing the Sixers [story].
“It was just the Phoenix Suns versus the 76ers, and the best team won. We tried to go out there and execute a defensive scheme, and they got us tonight.”
The Suns closed the gap to 87-86 after Shaquille Harrison’s three-point play with eight seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Askia Booker split a pair of foul shots with 7.8 seconds left to put the Sixers up two points. The Suns were unable to get a shot off in the closing seconds.
Former St. Joe’s standout Isaiah Miles finished with a game-high 20 points in his first start for the Sixers. Furkan Korkmaz snapped out of his shooting slump, adding 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting. He went 3 for 6 on three-pointers.
But the outcome of game was a mere footnote. On this night, it was all about Bridges and Smith. Sixers fans will compare both players’ developments over the next few seasons — if not longer.
Just don’t tell that to Bridges, who finished with seven points – all in the first half.
“I don’t compare myself to him,” the former Villanova and Great Valley High standout said. “I try to be the best basketball player that I can be. So, they can do whatever they want to the comparing and contrasting. I don’t know. I just go out there and try to be the best basketball player I can be.”
On this evening, Bridges made 2 of 5 baskets and had a game-high four steals and a team-high two blocks to go with three turnovers. Thursday marked his first game starting in the summer league.
Like Bridges, Smith shot 2 for 5 from the field. However, he had eight points to go with two assists and one turnover. He made all three of his foul shots. He was also the first to make an imprint on the game.
Smith scored and was fouled on his first shot attempt 2 minutes, 41 seconds into the game. The Sixers subbed him out the rest of the quarter shortly after he converted the three-point play. Smith went on to miss his two shot attempts in the second quarter.
However, Bridges had a solid first half.
His best sequence came midway through the first quarter. The 6-foot-7, 200-pounder blocked Miles’ layup attempt at the 5-minute, 34-second mark. Davon Reed grabbed the defensive rebound, dribbled the ball up court and found Bridges at the three-point line. Bridges drained the three to put his team up by 10-7 with 5:26 left in the quarter. Bridges’ second basket came on a dunk with 6:13 left in the half. He went on to miss both of his shot attempts in the third quarter and didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Smith missed his lone shot attempt in the third before rising up and draining a three-pointer with 6:34 left to play. He had missed three straight shots before that basket.
“That time he decided to raise up and shoot the three and made it; that’s what stood out to me,” said Sixers assistant Kevin Young, who’s coaching the summer-league team. “Every game, he’s got one or two plays. You want to see it more. I think that just speaks more the work in progress.”
Sixers center Jonah Bolden failed to score a point. He went 0 for 4 from the floor, with all the attempts being three-pointers. He played only 1:54 in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, the first pick in last month’s draft, also struggled. The 7-1, 260-pounder had 10 points and nine rebounds. However, he shot 4 for 10 and had six turnovers.