In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center in his second stint with the Sixers, Ersan Ilyasova gave a resounding reminder of what the team's fans had been missing.
Ilyasova was integral to the Sixers' second-half comeback in a 110-99 win over the Hornets Friday night, recording 18 points, four rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes (see observations). Fifteen of those points came in the second half, as the Sixers outscored the Hornets 62-43 after intermission.
Every time the Sixers needed a big play, Ilyasova made it. He notched four points and an assist in an 8-0 Sixers' run after the Hornets took a 76-62 lead, their largest of the night. His three-pointer from the right wing gave the Sixers a 91-89 advantage, their first lead since early in the second quarter. And the charge he took on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 1:24 left and the Sixers up 101-97 brought the house down.
Brett Brown, who played Ilyasova with the starters down the stretch, is a big fan of the veteran and all the elements he brings to the Sixers.
"All over the place, whether it's him making a three, him making a pass to Joel (Embiid), rolling, him taking a charge, him coexisting with Dario Saric, I think that flexibility, that versatility is what excites me the most about him," Brown said. "And it's not like we don't know each other. We know each other well. He knows the system well, though there's still lots to re-familiarize with. But he's a massive pickup at this stage, in my eyes."
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Brown still sounds like he's trying to figure out where exactly Ilyasova, who the Sixers traded to the Hawks at last season's deadline, fits into his rotation. He played 10 players Friday night, including five minutes for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and 12 for Richaun Holmes. At one stage, Ilyasova played at center, in a small lineup alongside Saric. For most of the night, he was in his traditional power forward spot, alongside either Embiid or Holmes.
Embiid, who found Ilyasova for a nifty give-and-go basket late in the fourth quarter, is happy he's getting a chance to re-connect with the veteran forward.
"I was excited to him have back," Embiid said. "I told him, ‘Let's do whatever we had going on in January last year.' So I'm excited to have him back."
As for Ilyasova, he chose the Sixers for a reason. He saw the growth of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the winning atmosphere building in Philadelphia, and he wanted to be a part of it.
"Joel was obviously great last year. And now healthy, he's obviously playing at a high level," Ilyasova said. "I think Ben Simmons, I didn't play with him last year, but the way he sees the floor with his height, it's a huge advantage for us."
With his veteran perspective, does Ilyasova think the Sixers can be a threat in the playoffs?
"Of course, why not? When you look at the game we play, it's all about us," he said. "When we played against Cleveland, they're probably considered one of the teams who will be in the playoffs, but we came out strong and beat them. I think when you look at this conference, everybody is close to each other, everybody's beatable.
"I think from this point, it's all about us. In the playoffs, you have to know one thing: In a seven-game series, it's unique. Everybody studies each other, it's a long series. And I think we're capable of bringing something extra every game."