I’m filling in for Brandon tonight, and I thought about just copy-pasting one of his recent recaps from a game where the Thunder slipped behind before clawing their way back to win a game you would’ve forgiven them for punting. But they lost, so I had to copy-paste a recap from one of the several early season games that they lost in the same fashion.
I’ve been pushing the Sixers/Thunder parallels for a week, and while some readers for both sites have found the comparisons insulting, it’s purely complimentary on my part. Watching Philly play reminds me of the Thunder’s halcyon days, when they were so young and so, so scary. Philadelphia is in danger of being a joyless version of that, but the shape is still there. I find it familiarly endearing how dumb they can be (fouling the Thunder on 6 of their first 8 possessions in the fourth), how mismatched their stars can seem (a point guard who sits in the dunker’s spot while the Shaqish center spots up), and how overwhelming they can look despite all those warts. Like Pinkerton, it makes me wanna go back to the good life of Thunder 1.0.
And call me a Presti disciple, but I just really enjoyed how this matchup fleshed out, because the Thunder fought fire with fire. It was a full-court contest: limbs everywhere, players looking to sprint and crash into each other at all times. While Russell Westbrook was always a wrecking crew, the Thunder had sanded down some of their edges with age and playstyles throughout the roster that weren’t all set to 11. Building a team with players and a style that produces wins is the priority, but all things otherwise equal? Give me a roster that can fly, turning all 94 feet of hardwood into the Wild West.
Like the frustrating, lovable Thunder teams of yore, the Sixers made their own luck after shooting themselves in the foot to keep it closer than it should’ve been. They were up 14 early in the third, but that margin dwindled down to four or fewer from the end of that period until there was just 90 seconds to go. Up six after a clutch Simmons power drive, they didn’t close the game gracefully. A missed boxout on Steven Adams? He failed to put the tip all the way through the cylinder, and it boinged into the stands, Sixers ball (ruled an offensive goaltend). Then Adams immediately pinned a Philly layup to the glass, but it pin-balled over to the corner for a dagger Tobias Harris three that put them up 115-106 with under a minute to go. It wasn’t pretty, but it was satisfying for the erupting home crowd.
For their part, the Thunder made it much uglier and tougher than a title-hopeful at home would ever want it to be against a pseudo-rebuilding team. Think they’ll share notes with whoever OKC draws in the first round of the playoffs?
- Thank you, Lord, that I was in between TV screens and didn’t make out what I’m told was a backwards dislocated finger on Embiid’s hand.
- On said dislocation play, Embiid walked to the sideline as Adams bullied all the remaining Sixers paint occupants for his first just-missed monster putback and subsequent offensive board and slam. That was emblematic of how the physicality would go the rest of the night. Embiid was playing very carefully with the popped-back-in finger, regularly getting outmuscled (along with other Philly players) by Adams for loose balls and rebounds. Embiid wasn’t quite a Whitesider with his level of not-wanting-none, but he wasn’t up for a constant battle.
- Billy Donovan interrupted my nostalgia, calling timeout during a stretch he must have perceived as listless and messy. He was not such a fan of the low-scoring sequence between Simmons and Hamidou Diallo, who were trading turnovers and charge calls in the open floor and rolling around after the ball all over the floor like it was a game of 500.
- In all of the shot creating and making bliss, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s lack of a developing distribution feel has gone mostly unnoticed. His season high for assists is 6, and he had just 2 tonight. He has 12 more assists on the season than Adams. His usage and minutes are both way up from last season, yet he’s averaging fewer assists.
- I’m not just looking for counting numbers or even voluminous passing, but he misses open teammates routinely. In the second, Danilo Gallinari was fuming after a no-call the prior possession, and made a cut into wide open space while SGA was driving. I couldn’t tell if Gilgeous-Alexander faked the pass before attempting another difficult reverse layup, and I’m not sure whether ignoring him or being blind would be worse. In any case, he missed the layup, which Gallinari still managed to gobble up and follow.
- On the other hand, he was all the way in on a lot of the pace-pushing fun after an outlet or rebound of his own (he had 9). Smart, methodical ball-pounding in the clutch is a sight for sore eyes in OKC. But slo-mo SGA taking it coast to coast on multiple possessions? The way to my Thunder heart.
- Whatever you think of either player, it’s silly to be both mad at Ben Simmons for not shooting and Joel Embiid for shooting. If the lack of spacing caused by the former is an outrage, then why would you expect the latter (or their teammates) to operate freely in the post?
- On that note, defenders still fall for Embiid’s pump fake.
- Darius Bazley was not running hot on the fumes from posterizing Embiid in the last matchup between these teams. Some very rough moments for the rookie. In the first half, he got caught dead to rights on one of his drive and kicks, as a Sixers defender just sat in the corner and received the pass like they were practicing a drill. In the fourth, he followed an airballed drive to nowhere by snoozing while his man, Mike Scott, spotted up to drain a big three.
- I’m here for more Mike Muscala at the 5.
- But Muscala needs some charge-drawing tutoring from Adams. Pretty sad swipe and stumble from him while trying to get in Scott’s way on one drive in the third.
- Chris Fisher and Michael Cage roasting Joel Embiid for comically launching a back-tap to the other end of the court was pretty funny. “Did he think there was an army of Sixers waiting over there?”
- Shouts to DT’s own Dom Flaim, who covered this one in person for us. Look out for a story from him soon.
- Got ’em: