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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: James Ennis and his ‘Old Man Game’ are exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers need

#Ennis

This season Elton Brand made two of the biggest trades of the NBA season - acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves in November and then Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers at the deadline.

But there's one other deadline move that at the time went slightly under the radar, but has paid off in this year's playoffs. Their acquisition of James Ennis III from the Houston Rockets.

Ennis' run in Houston didn't exactly go to plan. After signing a two-year $3.4 million contract with the Rockets in the off-season, a move that was regarded as one of the sneaky best free agency signings of 2018, he struggled with hamstring issues and on-court chemistry problems - he just didn't quite fit.

Most Australians know Ennis as that high-flying human highlight reel that dazzled fans all over the country as he led the Perth Wildcats to the 2014 NBL Championship. But in Philly, he's a completely different player.

"He's got an old man's YMCA game," 76ers Coach Brett Brown said prior to Game 4 of the Conference Semifinals. "He knows how to up-fake and it takes forever, then he does something with it or he has a sneaky athletic dunk or an unexpected offensive rebound."

When NBA.com told Ennis after the game about his coaches' comments, he couldn't help but laugh.

"When you're a lot younger you have more bounce to your step," Ennis said. "It's funny I've heard that a lot that I have an old-style game. I continue to work a lot on my game every day."

"Definitely shooting is the main key and I hang my hat on defence which comes along with the way that I play - which is physical and playing hard on the defensive end."

And his shooting and defence has been what's made him such a valuable part of this 76ers playoff run, where Ennis has solidified himself as the first guy off the bench in Brown's eight-man rotation, tasked with defending the Raptors primary ball handler Kyle Lowry.

"Mostly where I appreciate his gifts are defensively," Coach Brown said. "When we can have someone else that has the chance to defend, as an example, Kyle Lowry."

"It's always the thing that's daunted us in the past, who's got the ball. We all boast about our height, or size, our length. But then you say, 'who's got Kyrie [Irving]? Who's got Kyle Lowry? Maybe that's not a great match-up for Tobias [Harris] and you've seen we've done a lot with Ben [Simmons] lately as the primary defensive player on the ball and I think James has the ability that was unexpected to me to do that."

Whilst Kawhi Leonard has been killing the 76ers this series, Ennis and the 76ers have managed to contain Lowry. They're holding the All-Star to shooting a super low 16.7% from three and averages of 12.5 points and 6.3 assists per game.

From a shooting perspective, Ennis' ability to spread the floor and knock down open shots has made him a valuable addition to the team and especially this series.

"We have good players here and they get a lot of attention so that frees me up a little bit more than they do and they give me good passes, and good looks, which makes the game easier for myself," explained Ennis.

Through the first four games, Ennis is averaging 10.8 points whilst shooting 56.1% from the field and Coach Brown has given the 28-year-old a license to shoot.

"When a coach tells you to shoot the ball when you're open, that gives you a lot of confidence," Ennis said. "I'm knocking down a lot of shots because I'm playing with a lot of confidence right now and all the guys are telling me to shoot like Jimmy [Butler] and Ben [Simmons]."

"[In Game 4] they didn't go for my pump fake in that first half so in the second half I just shot it right away, and it went in."

It's not just on the court that Ennis has been able to affect the 76ers, but off it too. Last month Ben Simmons talked about how Ennis has become a mentor to him since joining the team at the deadline.

"As a vet, he's a great leader," Simmons explained. "For me personally, he motivates me when I'm having a down game or whatever the case is."

Their relationship goes further than that, even though Ennis has only been on the 76ers for a short period of time, the two have struck up a tight bond and even have matching dogs.

"Ben's one of my closest friends on my team and he talked me into getting a Cane Corso, so I got a Cane Corso," Ennis said with a laugh. "We hang out a lot."

"Just me being older and playing on quite a lot of teams in the NBA, playing with a lot of good players like D-Wade, Chris Bosh, players like that, I can give him a lot of knowledge with what I learned from them and at his age and what he can help this team with.

"He knows what he's doing, he's an All-Star."

As the 76ers head to Toronto for an all-important Game 5, Ennis has full confidence that the team can advance to their first conference finals appearance since 2001.

"If you look around our squad, our roster, everyone is talented. We believe it. We talk about it every day," Ennis said. "We've just got to win these couple of games and get to the conference finals.

"That's our big goal. I think we can do it, everyone on our team thinks we can do it. We've just got to prove it.

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