NEW YORK — Paul Reed is the poster child for receiving constructive criticism and biding his time.
The 76ers backup center also has extreme confidence that has helped him avoid doubting himself when things look bleak.
These qualities have benefited the Sixers in the later stages of this season. And his ability to overcome adversity helped the team complete its first playoff sweep in 32 seasons.
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With Joel Embiid sidelined with a sprained right knee, Reed started at center in Saturday’s decisive 96-88 series win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of the first-round showdown. The third-year player had a difficult first half and heard about it in the dressing room at Barclays Center. Responding well to that criticism, Reed finished with 10 points, a career-high 15 rebounds — including eight offensive boards, tying a career-high — as well as three assists, a steal and a block.
“He kept his hands on the ball, getting extra possessions,” PJ Tucker said. “This stuff matters. “You have to have an engine in this game”, is what I told him. “Don’t worry about scoring. Just care about being in the right place at the right time, helping and communicating. And he did. In the second half he came out and he did it.
Reed had two points on a 1-for-4 shot in the first half. He had five rebounds and an assist, but was 12 under in 13 minutes and 5 seconds.
“In the first half, he had three offensive rebounds that he tried to put up rather than send them back for three,” Doc Rivers said. “All year round, he catches them and throws them away for three years.”
After the intermission, Reed went back to his usual business.
As a result, in the second half, he finished with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds and was a plus-19 in 18:50.
One of Reed’s most memorable plays was stealing Cam Johnson’s pass with 1:54 left in the third quarter. That led to a three-pointer Tyrese Maxey to put the Sixers up, 63-57, 5 seconds later, forcing a Nets timeout.
Tucker rushed to his mentee during the action break.
So what was his animated message?
“That’s what I’m talking about (expletive),” Tucker told Reed.
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Reed also made several big plays late in the game. His cup layup put the Sixers up, 78-72, with 6:59 remaining.
After Mikal Bridges fired Brooklyn four-pointers, Reed grabbed an offensive rebound with 6:23 left. He immediately passed the ball to De’Anthony Melton, who buried an open three-pointer to make it an 81-74 game.
With the Sixers still clinging to a seven-point lead, he grabbed defensive rebounds on back-to-back possessions. And he blocked a Johnson floater with 3:36 left.
“Paul Reed was huge,” Maxey said.
Of course he was. Before the game, Reed said he was going to step up. But he revealed after the game that he was not told he would start until an assistant coach told him before the game.
“I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, for real,'” he said.
The 23-year-old must have known something was up by the way he was in the dressing room. Not only was he seated somewhere other than Thursday, but he had two lockers for Game 4. It’s a move usually reserved for Embiid, James Harden, Tobias Harris and Tucker.
“I just thought he deserved it,” Rivers said of Reed’s departure. “He played well.”
Still, he had a tough time as a Sixer.
Reed earned NBA G League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in 2021. But he has rarely played this season and next for the Sixers. He did not understand his role and had quality veterans in front of him.
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This season, it was not uncommon to see Rivers and Tucker chew it up after mistakes. But he never doubted his abilities.
“I work so hard,” he said. “I work every day to work on my game. I know what I can do. I know what I am capable of.
“But sometimes, like in the first half, I forced bad shots because you can get too confident.”
His confidence was still intact in the second half. Reed just realized he didn’t have to force anything.
“My teammates will find me,” he said. “I have to trust that, and that’s what they ended up doing throughout the game.”