Georges Niang wasn’t himself down the stretch. The Philadelphia 76ers sharpshooter was battling patella tendinopathy in his left knee and couldn’t get the proper lift on his usually lethal three-pointer.
Niang looked hobbled in the postseason while shooting 17.8% from deep in the Eastern Conference semifinals, down from 40.3% in the regular season. The 28-year-old showed up on the injury report but vowed to play through the pain. How could he not after watching Joel Embiid suffer? But Niang was far from 100% healthy. He’ll get that bum knee and everything else checked out in the offseason.
“The biggest thing for me is to continue to focus on my body and my left knee which had been bothering me toward the end of the year and into the playoffs,” Niang told reporters. “And that’s something we’re going to address by working in the gym and seeing what’s going on there. I don’t think it’s anything serious but it’s something I need to get under [control] and take care of so I can be 100%. It wouldn’t be fair to my teammates if my health wasn’t something I’m taking care of over the offseason, to get back and be better for next year.”
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Niang Embraced Philly, Played Important Role
Niang was a steal for the Sixers last offseason after inking an insanely cheap two-year deal worth $6.75 million. He definitely outplayed that contract, adding some much-needed leadership and toughness off the bench. And Niang quickly turned into a fan favorite and earned the nickname “Bang, Bang Georges Niang” from Sixers play-by-play announcer Kate Scott.
Head coach Doc Rivers specifically asked for the 6-foot-7 forward when he saw him hit free agency. He envisioned a bigger role for Niang in Philly than what he was being asked to do last year in Utah, so the Sixers made the move and neither side had any regrets.
“I love being in Philadelphia, obviously Doc was completely honest about my role and wanting me here and how he saw me developing here,” Niang said. “It’s all been true. There is still work that needs to be done, to continue to grow and to guard multiple positions on the defensive end and to continue to be more diverse on the offensive end.”
Niang accepted his role and hopes to grow into an even larger one after seeing a career high of 22.8 minutes per game during the 2021-22 campaign. First, he plans to work on that 4-for-25 shooting from the three-point line against Miami.
“For me, it’s contributing in the small ways,” Niang said. “Whether it’s rebounding, or defending, and obviously this series the lack of shot-making is something that needs to be better on my end and I think that’s something you got to look in the mirror and I’ll do that over the next week or so and drill out a plan of how I can be better and help this team grow in the future.”
What Went Wrong Against Miami Heat?
Niang’s shooting woes were hard to overcome in the playoff series loss to Miami. That wasn’t the reason the Sixers lost, though. It had more to do with their lack of physicality and mental toughness. The Heat put them in the Octagon and the Sixers had no counter-attack.
“Miami took the fight to us and we didn’t respond,” Niang said. “It’s like a boxing match where someone’s throwing haymakers and you’re struggling to get a punch off and I’m not saying we quit but I think a lack of focus at times. When you dig yourself into a hole, you have to be really mentally strong to get up and make that counter-attack.
“And I think there were points in both games, 5 and 6, where we didn’t have that. And that’s what happens when you have a team that has you on the ropes and you lack the mental focus to stick together and throw punches back, and that’s where they got us.”