BOSTON – When Georges Niang speaks inside the TD Garden on Wednesday evening, he will look in the stands to see “who is wearing a green t-shirt under my jersey”.
Niang is now on both sides of the heated 76ers-Celtics rivalry. The reserve forward in his first season with Philly is from Lawrence, Massachusetts, about 25 miles from downtown Boston. And after playing four seasons with Utah, Niang is happy to now have two trips to his hometown each regular season instead of one.
“Obviously, I think they’re cheering me on,” Niang said of his family and friends who will be attending. “But there are people who bleed pretty deeply when it comes to the Celtics.”
Niang was 14 when the Celtics won the 2008 NBA Championship, and the seasons anchored by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen “definitely stay on my mind.” That’s why getting a call from Doc Rivers, which resulted in this Celtics era, during free agency was particularly meaningful.
Niang is enjoying a career season with the Sixers, averaging 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 38.7% on 5.7 three-point attempts per game coming in Wednesday . Recently, he’s been asked to play heavy minutes and multiple roles, including as an on-site starter and a small ball cross when several teammates were in COVID-19 health and safety protocols or injured.
“He’s a good spirit,” Rivers said of Niang ahead of Wednesday’s game. “High IQ. Shoot the ball. Has the competitive gene. … We needed a guy like Georges. As for a guy (on a) minimum wage contract, he’s been a huge asset to us this year.
With the return of the Sixers’ original rotation for this intriguing four-game road trip, however, Niang can resume his anticipated role as a great all-rounder stretch. He is especially happy to again split the floor with All-Star Joel Embiid in spurts.
“Jo draws a double team every time,” said Niang. “So I’m glad to find him on the floor again, because it selfishly creates a lot of punches for me. “
Second-year big man Paul Reed was reassigned to the G League Delaware Blue Coats on Tuesday.
Reed had switched between the Blue Coats and the Sixers in recent days, totaling 27 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in Sunday’s 905 Raptors win before being called back to Philly for Monday’s game against Orlando. But since the Sixers are on the road until Dec. 8, that stint with Delaware will likely be longer for Reed.
READ MORE: With their roster intact and a tough trip ahead, we’re about to learn a lot about the Sixers
With the Sixers’ frontcourt restored – as well as the emergence of rookie center Charles Bassey – Reed’s minutes had dried up in the last few games.
“He just needs the playing time,” Rivers said of Reed last week. “He’s having a really hard time executing so we really want to get him through and let him play more minutes and see if he can pull it off.”
Additionally, two-way goaltender Grant Riller injured his right shoulder in the Blue Coats’ 905 Raptors game on Sunday and will be re-evaluated in a week’s time, a Sixers official said. Riller recently recovered from surgery following a knee injury sustained in the Philly opener in Toronto.
Rivers said ahead of Wednesday’s game he spoke earlier today to his son Austin, the Denver Nuggets goaltender who has just entered health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 .
“He said yesterday he didn’t feel anything, and today he felt very bad,” Rivers said. “… The first thing that comes out of his mouth, he says, ‘Whoever doesn’t think it’s real is wrong. It’s real.’ He said, ‘I’ve never felt this before.’
“It will be good, but a lot of guys [are getting sick]. I am worried again. Let’s see if we can overcome this.
The Sixers, of course, had Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe all on protocols over the past month. Embiid said his case was important; that he had trouble breathing, had a headache worse than a migraine, and “really didn’t think I could. It was so bad.
Among those who registered with Embiid during his fight was Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who spent the 2019-20 season as an assistant to the Sixers. They also connected in person ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“Obviously someone I spent a year with and spent a ton of time with before the bubble in Philadelphia, working individually,” Udoka said. “I got to know him a lot and think of him as a friend and I was just happy that he was doing well.”