No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz has become important part of 3-seeded Sixers

There had to be multiple stretches this season when every Sixers fan wondered if they would ever see Markelle Fultz play.

Play meaningful minutes? Even the most seasoned Sixers fan had to believe that wouldn’t occur until next season at the earliest.

Lost a bit in the Sixers’ remarkable 16-game winning streak to finish 52-30 with the No. 3 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference is the development of Fultz. The No. 1 overall pick from the University of Washington played in the first four games then missed the next 68 games with shoulder issues. It turned into such a soap opera because it was unclear what was exactly wrong with the 19-year-old point guard.

In their 130-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Fultz recorded the first triple-double of his career with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He became the youngest player in the NBA to register a triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball accomplished the feat earlier this season.

Fultz has performed admirably in each of the last 10 games but this performance was special. It was certainly unlikely while he was sidelined for 68 games. What a spark Fultz has provided as the Sixers surge into the postseason.

Fultz’s teammates celebrated with him on the court. It was worthy of a celebration.

“I mean, if you said what’s the most impressive thing of the night, that’s mine,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said of Fultz’s triple-double. “When you get into the coaching rhythm you’re not really aware of statistics and I wasn’t aware that he was that close to a triple-double. To see his teammates react to Markelle Fultz was special. I think it’s a snapshot into who these guys are.

“I think it’s a real-time example of how you’ve heard me say they play together, they co-exist, we pass the ball and this and that,” Brown added. “That’s real. It doesn’t require a coach throwing out some math, there’s a human side to that action that you just described that is special.”

Sixers fans had to become skeptical of Fultz’s return. When Fultz finally suited up, the fan base gave him a standing ovation. The cheers haven’t stopped since.

“It’s unbelievable, that’s the support I’ve been getting all year, going through what I’ve been through, they’ve been like that the whole year,” Fultz said. “They’ve just been there for me and have boosted my confidence, that why I love them.”

Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick for a variety of reasons and they were all on display against the Bucks. For the first time, he really started to look like the player he was at Washington.

“I’ve always believed in myself, I’ve always known what I was capable of,” Fultz said. “It was just a matter of going out there enjoying myself and playing confidently.”

The playoffs begin this weekend. And the Sixers might have found a key contributor sooner than they expected. What a feel-good story.

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