Philadelphia 76ers: The reintroduction of Justin Anderson

(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

After playing sporadically for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018 due to shin splints, Justin Anderson proved he’s a player to watch moving forward in Game 3.

While many will immediately point to the return of Joel Embiid as to why the Philadelphia 76ers breezed past the Miami Heat in Game 3, another player who deserves far more credit than he’s received thus far for the team’s victory has to be third-year wingman Justin Anderson.

The crown jewel of last season’s Nerlens Noel trade, Anderson once looked prime to become a regular contributor in Brett Brown‘s rotation, but a nagging shin splint injury, when coupled with the addition of Marco Belinelli made minutes hard to come by for the ex-Dallas Maverick.

But in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, when matched up head-to-head against a future Hall-of-Famer, Anderson turned in an absolute gem in limited action.

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After being dominated by a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade to the tune of 28 points in 26 minutes in Gae 2, Coach Brown knew that if the 76ers were going to have any chance of sealing a win in South Beach he was going to need to neutralize the Heat’s most dynamic scorer.

Enter Justin Anderson.

After routinely taking advantage of a 6-foot-9 Robert Covington on drives to the basket in the previous game, Brown deployed the smaller, more agile Anderson on Wade one-on-one for almost half of his 25 minutes on the court and it worked like a charm.

Limiting the 12-time All-Star to only eight points, Anderson almost immediately got in Wade’s head like a wily veteran, as highlighted by the pairs double technical early in the second quarter, and quickly neutralized any chance of the once-great superstar recording another vintage performance in what may be one of his last games at American Airlines Arena.

And while this performance was impressive, it’s hardly the first time Anderson has shut down an aging superstar.

Last season, in a March third game with far fewer playoff implications, Anderson matched up one-on-one for the majority of the game against then-New York Knick Carmelo Anthony and made the 10-time All-Star, nine years his senior, look foolish in the painted area. While this late-season performance was hardly highlight-reel worthy, as the Sixers had long been destined for the NBA lottery at that point, it did prove the Anderson is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win, even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

But for all the good Anderson did on the court in his nine minutes of action in Game 3, he may have been even more vital on the sideline.

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Arguably Joel Embiid’s best friend on the team, as highlighted by their frequent appearances on each other’s Instagram accounts, Anderson’s words of encouragement apparently helped to calm the fourth-year big man in his first game back on the court in over the month, and help to drive him to a pretty remarkable 23-point performance in his playoff debut.

Simply put, even in less than 10 minutes of action, Anderson proved why he is such an intriguing piece on a team already loaded with stars and highlighted why the Sixers picked up his fourth-year option last fall.

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Well only time will tell just how much more he gets to see the court for the remainder of the Philadelphia 76ers playoff run, if he can continue to play lockdown defense from the wing, while also hitting a still-improving 33 percent of his shots from three-point range, there will surely be a spot on this team for Justin Anderson for years to come.