After a hot start to a difficult six-game road trip, the Philadelphia 76ers started to struggle on the back-end of the stint. Wins over the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, and the Los Angeles Lakers gave the Sixers a 3-0 start, but losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets got them out of their groove.
On Thursday night, the Sixers got ready to wrap up the road trip with a matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Philly certainly has the better team on paper, the Cavaliers managed to defeat the Sixers twice already before Thursday night.
Through the first half, Cleveland put up a good fight, as expected. Heading into halftime, Philly had just a two-point lead as they didn't get much out of their starting lineup outside of Seth Curry.
Fortunately, the Sixers' bench was ready to help carry the squad through the night. As Tobias Harris landed in foul trouble early, and Ben Simmons' offensive struggles continued, players such as Shake Milton, Dwight Howard, and Matisse Thybulle brought the energy, which helped the 76ers pick up a 114-94 win on Thursday.
“They were great, just overall,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said in regards to Philly's bench unit. “When you look at just the plus-minus numbers for them, it was unbelievable. Even at halftime, they were all pluses. I thought defensively, what did we have, eight deflections the way we counted them at halftime? We had 31 in the second half alone. What I liked about the bench is offensively, they were organized. That was really great to see.”
The backup point guard Shake Milton led the charge offensively for the Sixers on Thursday night. With a little under 30 minutes of playing time, Milton hit on 10 of his 14 field goal attempts. Five of his buckets came from beyond the arc. In total, Milton collected a game-high of 27 points off the bench.
“I was extremely proud,” said Sixers veteran forward Tobias Harris. “I think them just coming in there and imposing their will defensively and being scrappy. Just having that energy. I thought the third quarter, as a whole, we came out with some great energy. Get out, get a lead, and then to have the bench come in and sustain the lead and push it up even further was huge for us.”
Leading the bench unit alongside Milton was the veteran center, Dwight Howard. This season, Howard's been up and down for the 76ers as he sometimes tends to land himself in foul trouble early, which prevents him from playing freely. However, Thursday night in Cleveland was not one of those nights.
In 26 minutes of action, Howard collected a double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds. While Howard was certainly a key to Philly's success against the Cavaliers, the veteran big man issued all of the credit to the young guards on the team.
“Our young guards stepped up and played big tonight,” Howard said after the game. “Tobias got in foul trouble early, and everybody stepped up after that and made some big plays and hit some big shots. Shake, he was unbelievable from the beginning of the game. Tonight was a good game for all of us," he concluded.