The Sixers don't beat the Clippers Thursday night without Markelle Fultz.
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With the ups and downs we've seen from the second-year guard, it's a little surprising to be typing that sentence on Nov. 1.
But that's how good Fultz was in the Sixers' 122-113 win over Los Angeles (see observations). The Sixers built a 15-point halftime lead. They watched that advantage disappear with a 24-8 run by the Clippers, in large part thanks to the play of reserve big Boban Marjanovich.
Then Fultz entered the game for his second half run off the bench. And he came in with a vengeance. The Sixers went on a 10-2 run and Fultz had a hand in all 10 points, scoring six and assisting on Mike Muscala's four-point play. The most impressive play is when he closed the quarter with a driving layup right to the chest of Marjanovich.
"You just felt the building change," Brett Brown said of the spark Fultz provided. "You felt our team's mood change. We needed that injection of energy."
Much has been made of Fultz's presence in the starting lineup. Brown has mentioned that he'd like to grow the on-court relationship with Fultz and Ben Simmons – the issue being of course that both players are better with the ball in their hands as point guards.
Brown's thinking is that it's better to try that experiment in the first five minutes of the game and then allow Fultz to run point when Simmons rests. So far it's had mixed results, but on Thursday it worked to perfection.
"We continue to see why he was drafted No. 1," Brown said. "When he's got the ball he's pretty unique – he's pretty special in the open court and finding people and so on. We've been trying to put him in that environment as much as we can with the ball as a point guard."
Sure, the final stat line won't blow you away (12 points (5 of 10), nine rebounds, five assists) but there was just a difference in Fultz. He had some extra bounce on the floor and even his body language after the game seemed the most positive it's been all season.
"Definitely but I'm used to playing off the ball. I'm a basketball player," Fultz said when asked if he's more comfortable with the ball in his hands. "Ben Simmons is a great player, he's going to find you so when I'm off the ball just looking for a cut, trying to get open for shots. I think with the ball I'm pretty talented, too. I'm a basketball player, I'm going to figure it out."
This is actually the third time Fultz has looked better during his run off the bench than his start. Is it because he's running the show? Is it him adjusting to playing off the ball? Is it just needing to get into the flow of the game?
When asked for a solution, Brown gave a scientifically improbable response.
"You put him in a time warp and hope he's 23 soon," Brown said. "I don't mean to be a wise guy, it just comes with age and experience. The older he gets the more he's going to do that more and more. I think that when you do have a taste of success you are able to sell it and say it a lot easier."