With their minds on their fallen comrade and playing their third game in four nights, the Oklahoma City Thunder took to the court on Sunday with heavy legs and heavier hearts. If their previous meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers was any indicator, the Thunder knew this would be a 48 minute (or 63 minute) kind of game.
A lot of the first quarter was focused on the interactions between Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook, who had a little bit of a spat at the end of their first meeting in Philadelphia earlier this season. It didn’t disappoint early on as Embiid had a clean drive to the basket after losing Steven Adams on the perimeter and had only Westbrook in between himself and the basket. Westbrook tried to take a charge, but Embiid went up and created a poster. The rest of the first quarter was back and forth affair with the Thunder taking a two point lead heading into the second. Paul George paced the Thunder in the first frame with 13 points on 4/8 shooting from the field.
The second quarter turned into a bit of a foul fest with the Sixers getting into the bonus with a little under nine minutes left in the first half. The Sixers shot ten free throws in the quarter, making seven of them. Foul trouble became an issue for both teams as Adams and Embiid both picked up their 3rd fouls within the quarter. It got so bad for the Thunder that Dakari Johnson got 5:30 of playing in the quarter. Luckily for the Thunder, the Sixers could never really take advantage of Johnson being in the game against Embiid.
Near the end of the first half, the Thunder’s Big 3 took over to quell any situation where the Sixers could have run away with the game. Over the final 5 minutes of the quarter, the Big 3 scored 14 of the Thunder’s final 15 points, to include a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by George to bring the Thunder within one at the half.
In the 3rd quarter, it looked like the heavy legs might be the Thunder’s undoing. Dario Saric came out on fire, scoring 11 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter as the Sixers built their lead up to seven. Then the Thunder went on a 21-4 run over the next four and a half minutes to build up a nine point lead heading into the 4th quarter.
Westbrook’s energy was key to the Thunder’s run in the third quarter. Without it, the Thunder may have been content with winning seven of their last eight games. Instead, the fire that Westbrook exhales began to have its effect not just on the Thunder, but also the 76ers. The Sixers played a lot more timidly over that stretch and Westbrook began orchestrating the Thunder’s offense in a volume-scoring concerto.
The fourth quarter opened up with the 76ers going on a 10-2 run against the former all-bench lineup to pull within one. I say former because Terrance Ferguson is now a starter for the time being. After an Oklahoma City timeout, the Thunder came back with Westbrook in the lineup. And he took over. He accounted for 21 of the Thunder’s final 28 points, scoring 12 points and assisting on nine points from an Anthony three and three Steven Adams’ alley-oops.
For all the hoopla about the Sixers’ defense, Westbrook got whatever he wanted in the second half. He consistently found the mismatch and used the pick and roll to put himself and the Thunder in advantageous positions. Additionally, while everyone was watching the mythical Westbrook vs. Embiid matchup, the Adams vs. Embiid matchup was more of a draw, with the tiebreaker definitely going to Adams in the second half. Add to that Paul George scoring the quietest 31 points that I’ve ever seen and you have the recipe for the Thunder to get over their tired legs and hurting hearts and come out with a victory, 122-112.
- Westbrook seemed to tweak his left ankle early in the first quarter. Needed some time to walk it off, but he appeared to shake it off as the game went on. So, of course, I asked him about it (and got appropriately trolled in the process).
- Joel Embiid had 17 in the first half, but finished with 27 for the game. Steven Adams did a monster job against him defensively. Billy Donovan spoke about the impact Adams had on defending Embiid.
- Carmelo Anthony had a similar assessment on Adams’ performance.
- Brett Brown had some great things to say about Andre Roberson before the game.
- Funny interaction between Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony in the locker room.
Next up: Tuesday against the Wizards at 6 PM CST in the nation’s capital.