The MVP chants came raining down hard late in the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Odd since Joel Embiid wasn’t on the court. Philadelphia 76ers fans were directing all that Brotherly Love at No. 20 since No. 21 took the night off.
Was it a case of mistake identity? Georges Niang had earned their respect after leading the Sixers’ bench with 21 points. The 6-foot-7 stretch four essentially played the role of starter once Danny Green left with a hamstring injury. And excelled at everything: rebounds (5), assists (5), three-pointers (3). Money in the bank.
Niang grabbed a clutch rebound late in the fourth and fed Shake Milton for a layup, then scored a driving layup to put the Sixers up 99-90. When he came to the foul line with 5:15 to go, the Philly faithful serenaded him with those MVP chants – the same ones usually reserved for Embiid – and he knocked the two freebies down. Naturally, Embiid had to protect his turf.
“Joel told me to never let that happen again,” Niang joked. “The fans here have been great and have welcomed me with open arms so I am super thankful.”
Doc Rivers lobbied the front office for a player like Niang at last year’s trade deadline. No dice. He kept on them throughout the offseason and now the Sixers quite possibly have the best free-agent signing in the NBA. Niang is averaging 10.7 points in 19.9 minutes per game – that number increases to 19.4 when stretched out over 36 minutes.
“Georges is just a heady player,” Rivers said. “He can play the four, he can play the five. He brings the ball up a lot, which I think helps our offense. He takes pressure off our guards. His constant movement. Picks. And then he’s just tough. He’s not scared to get in the fray.”
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Second Unit Feeding Off Niang’s Energy
Niang’s 21 points marked a new season-high and the 20-5-5 stat line was the first of his career. Not bad for the former Utah Jazz player who inked a cheap two-year deal valued at $6.7 million. More importantly, the second unit looks energized instead of lethargic without Mike Scott eating up those crucial bench minutes.
Niang has been letting his emotions run wild and it’s been fun to see him hype up the crowd, via a raised fist or hand clap.
“When I show my emotion it’s natural and it’s really how I feel,” Niang said after beating the Blazers. “I’ll probably have to hold back a little bit because sometimes it gets to be a little too much but that’s really how I was feeling. I was excited, I was pumped.”
Niang added one more reason for the breakout performance. With Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris out, he didn’t want to let the fans down.
“I didn’t want to let Philly fans down to be honest with you,” Niang told NBC Sports. “Coming out with the victory was pretty big for us but obviously we miss Joel and Tobias. Those guys are our leaders so whenever we can get them back, we’ll be very thankful but until then we’re going to have a collective effort every night.”
Seth Curry Praises New Teammate
Niang was getting starter’s minutes in the fourth quarter alongside Seth Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Tyrese Maxey. The Sixers rode that smaller lineup – Andre Drummond entered with 5:22 left – down the stretch against Portland.
Curry scored 23 points to lead all scorers, including one-time Sixers trade targets Damian Lillard (20) and CJ McCollum (20). After the game, Curry focused on Niang and what he brings to the team.
“First and foremost, he knocks down shots,” Curry said. “He is a threat out there offensively, you have to guard him. He is an underrated playmaker. He puts the ball on the floor and makes the right decision whether to score or pass and just a smart player offensively and defensively.”