PHILADELPHIA — Brett Brown said he felt like the coach of the “University of the Philadelphia 76ers” when it came to Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Brown and the 76ers had to recruit both players when they became available this winter.
“Talk about a set of circumstances that benefited both parties,” Brown said before the Sixers hosted the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the best-of-seven, first-round series Monday night. “I just remember a heavy recruitment. There were several high-profile suitors, championship-caliber suitors, that wanted them.”
Both Belinelli and Ilyasova played prominent roles in the Sixers’ 130-103 Game 1 win over the Heat on Saturday. Belinelli sank 4 of 7 3-pointers and scored 25 points. Ilyasova, who started Monday night’s Game 2, scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He started the third quarter and gave the Sixers a second-half boost with his perimeter shooting.
Belinelli told reporters at the Sixers’ Monday morning shoot around that Philadelphia needed to be aggressive Monday night.
“We have to start the game well immediately, setting the right tone,” he said. “We know (Miami) is going to be aggressive on offense and defense. I just think it’s important for us to be ready to play our game.”
Belinelli and Ilyasova and their perimeter shooting are big part of the Sixers’ game.
The 76ers signed the 32-year-old Belinelli after the Atlanta Hawks released him in February. The 6-foot-5 swing man made his 76ers debut on Feb. 14. Philadelphia went 23-5 after signing Belinelli, who averaged 13.6 points and shot 38 percent from beyond the arc in the regular season.
Ilyasova, 30, impressed with the 76ers last season. But the 30-year-old center signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason. Philadelphia re-signed the 6-10 Ilyasova after the Hawks waived him at the end for February. He made his Sixers debut March 1.
Philadelphia finished the regular season 20-3 with Ilyasova, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds. His perimeter shooting makes it difficult for teams to defend Philadelphia. He sank 3 of 4 3-pointers against the Heat on Saturday.
How did Brown convince the two to sign with Philadelphia? He had a relationship with Ilyasova from last season, while Belinelli played for NBA coaches that Brown knew, including Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, where Brown was a long-time assistant before becoming the 76ers coach in 2013.
“I could sincerely say to them this is your role,” Brown said. “These are the type of minutes (you’re going to play). “
The Sixers would not be the same team without the late-season addition of both players.
“They seamlessly came into a program that could cater to their strengths,” Brown said, “and afford them a role, minutes. The partnership grew from there. We’re a good home for them.”
Sixers standout center Joel Embiid did not play Monday as he continues to recover from fractured left eye orbital. Brown said before Monday’s game that Embiid has not yet been cleared for contact.
“It’s same old, same old,” Brown said when asked about Embiid’s status.
Brown said Philadelphia was not ready to make an announcement on whether Embiid would play in Game 3 Thursday in Miami.
“I can’t wait to get him back,” Brown said. “He’s the difference maker. Joel Embiid changes the dynamics in many ways. There will be a reintroduction to get him back into the team. How I play him I’m not sure. We’ll judge that more once we can see what we’re able to do with him and how soon we can do it. But right now I can’t give you a perfect answer of what that looks like.”