All season long, Robert Covington has heard the boos. The Philadelphia 76ers small forward has struggled mightily with his accuracy this season, posting career-low shooting percentages of 35.2 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from 3-point range, and that’s made him a frequent target for Philly fans displeased that the fourth-year swingman — an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee State whose size and skill-set have at times made him look like he might be a tailor-made 3-and-D wing capable of playing multiple positions in the modern NBA — has stagnated into an offensive net negative.
“It’s not dictating my life,” he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. “It’s not making me frustrated. It’s not causing me to sit up here and second-guess about myself.”
Covington had another rough shooting night on Tuesday, missing 10 of his first 13 shots against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves and once again hearing boos from the stands at Wells Fargo Center. But with the game knotted at 91 after a game-tying 3-pointer by Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio — who knows a thing or two about taking arrows for an inability to reliably knock down shots, the Sixers had just 1.6 seconds left to win it in regulation … and Covington turned those jeers into cheers:
With point guard T.J. McConnell and stretch power forward Ersan Ilyasova occupying defenders Zach LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica on the far side of the floor, Covington faked as if he was going to break toward the 3-point line before curling at the elbow. He picked up a screen from center Joel Embiid, who managed to both ward off Karl-Anthony Towns and force his former Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins, to take a long route around the pick trailing the play.
Rubio, with his back turned to the sideline, stayed virtually motionless as Dario Saric sent his inbounds pass sailing toward the rim. Thanks to a honey of a sideline-out-of-bounds play drawn up by Sixers coach Brett Brown, there were absolutely no Timberwolves defenders in the neighborhood to stop Covington. He leapt, corralled a slightly off-target pass, and made an athletic layup off the window while falling to the floor to give Philly a two-point lead with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Minnesota’s attempt to answer on an inbounds redirect went awry, and the Sixers held on for a 93-91 win despite scoring just 14 points in the fourth quarter and watching a lead that had ballooned to 26 points midway through the third completely evaporate in the final minute, until the team’s resident piñata gave the Philly faithful in attendance reason to celebrate … even if the Sixers’ game operations team couldn’t quite believe the outcome:
Not even the 76ers want to believe they won. pic.twitter.com/tKbVniQYB1
— Dan Gelston (@APgelston) January 4, 2017
Covington finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, two assists and a block in 39 minutes of work in the win, which improved the Sixers to 9-24 on the season. After the game, CSN Philly’s Molly Sullivan asked Covington how it felt to come through in the clutch in such a major way after the crowd had so loudly shared their discontent with his shooting earlier in the night.
“Hey, these fans can boo all they want,” he said. “I’m never going to stop playing, no matter what, so that’s my mentality. That’s what I always do, no matter what. My teammates got my back.”
Chief among them: Embiid, this season’s Rookie of the Year favorite, who battled Towns, last year’s winner, all night long.
“I’m happy for [Covington],” Embiid told Sullivan. “The crowd has been booing him the whole game. I’m happy that he got the game-winner, and we got the win.”
Yeah, Joel. We kind of got that based on your reaction.
Towns fought back from a slow start to finish with 22 points on 9-for-22 shooting, 15 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 37 1/2 minutes. “The Process” more than held his own, though, leading Philly with 25 points on 8-for-20 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in 30 minutes in a meeting of two seriously gifted emerging behemoths …
Towns vs Embiid is at serious Godzilla vs Kong levels now.
— Robert H (@bandwagonknick) January 4, 2017
… that went Philly’s way thanks to a timely bit of excellence from a hard-working dude who really needed a win.
Basically Covington shouldn't be booed for a long time.
— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoCSN) January 4, 2017
This being Philly we’re talking about, I wouldn’t bet on that. For tonight, though, Covington more than earned a reprieve.
More NBA coverage:
– – – – – – –