76ers

More Sixers vs. Thunder, please

More Sixers vs. Thunder, please

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY — The season series between the Sixers and Thunder isn’t really over, is it?

These teams could play each other 20 more times and each game would be one to watch.

What started in Philadelphia on Dec. 15 as a triple-overtime thriller carried over to Oklahoma City Sunday night as a high-intensity battle that resulted in a 122-112 win for the Thunder on their home court (see observations).

While the Sixers and Thunder will not face off again until next season, these two contests were just a glimpse into what already has the making of a must-see matchup. 

“After a little talk after game one, leading into this game, kind of was looking forward to it,” Russell Westbrook (37 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds) said. “But, you know, Oklahoma City, 2-0.” 

Their first meeting of the season at the Wells Fargo Center wrapped up with a preview of what was to come Sunday night. During the Thunder’s 119-117 victory, Joel Embiid waved goodbye when Steven Adams fouled out. That didn’t set well with Westbrook, who sent his own message to Embiid after the buzzer.

“He told me to go home,” Embiid said that night. “And this is my home and I ain’t going nowhere.”

When the Sixers traveled to the Thunder’s home, the Thunder put their mark on the game with a second-half push and improved to 19-7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They extended their current winning streak to eight games and recorded their 18th straight win over the Sixers dating back to 2008. 

“You come into this building and you know with the roster that they have that you are going to be in for a fist fight,” Brett Brown said. “They are a big team. They are a physical team. You roll out three gold medalists and All-Stars and you sort of have Steven Adams at the center of it all, you know you are in for a long night.”

It was clear from the start both teams hadn’t forgotten their first battle. There were hard fouls, players hitting the floor and aggressive drives to the basket. The Sixers’ and Thunder’s combined 106 points in the paint was reflective of the jam-heavy ballgame. Ben Simmons, Adams and Westbrook rank in the league’s top 10 in points in that area. 

“They are so many athletes,” Embiid (27 points, 10 rebounds) said. “There was a lot of dunks. It’s just a show. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be in. But I wish we would have had the win, but these games are fun.”

Entertaining with a strong undertone of fast-paced intensity. The similar styles of play fueled this up-and-down contest. Paul George (31 points) considers the Sixers and Thunder’s styles to “mirror” one another. 

Then there’s the shared desire to win.

“I thought the atmosphere in Philly was a great atmosphere to be a part of and go on the road and play that game. That was our first time enjoying ‘The Process,’” Carmelo Anthony (16 points) said. “Tonight was just, we knew it would be a fun, physical game. Those guys, they just play hard for the full 48 minutes regardless of what’s going on out there. I think Coach (Brett) Brown does a great job keeping those guys engaged throughout the course of the game.”

The teams could look different next season, with no guarantees of trades and moves in free agency, especially Paul George. But both Embiid and Westbrook are locked in for long-term deals, creating the foundation for an Eastern-Western Conference showdown that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”

New NBA ASG great, but what in the world was before it?

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USA Today Images

New NBA ASG great, but what in the world was before it?

This week’s serving of Rob Rants focuses on the dichotomy of the 2018 NBA All-star Game and the show that comes with it. On the court, the game was a highly entertaining, competitive, tightly fought contest that incorporated a new concept that's a winner. The league also attempted something new prior to the game. That idea did not quite work as well. 

All-Star Games 
I generally am not a fan of All-Star Games. I haven’t watched the Pro Bowl in years. Same goes for the NHL All-Star Game. I find the MLB's midsummer classic to be the most watchable of the four. Plus, they have a captive audience as there are no other options that time of year. In recent years, I’ve taken more to the NBA three-point contest and skills competition rather than the dunk contest or the game itself. Full disclosure: I watched the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night for a few reasons. I wanted to see Joel Embiid’s first All-Star Game. I was curious about the new draft format of player selection. And my 16-year-old son who I was watching it with is a die-hard Sixers and NBA fan. So I watched all the way through. What I found were two polar-opposite productions. 

Premise
Along with ESPN’s College Gameday. I find TNT's Inside the NBA to be as good as it gets in terms of pregame shows. Ernie, Charles, Kenny, Shaq and crew were excellent as always. It’s what happened after they signed off that was a sight to be hold. 

Pregame show?
Philadelphia’s own Kevin Hart performed some type of musical/broadway play/comedy/is this really happening? Somehow Rob Riggle, the least funny man in the world, was involved. As were Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah and Ludacris. And there were cheerleaders and wild west folk. There may have been others but at that point, I began slipping into some kind of hypnotic coma. It went on interminably long. It was the kind of thing that, if Hart was not so popular and talented, can kill a career. It was that bad. But I strangely could not pull myself away. It was car crash, rubber-necking kind of bad. 

That mercifully ended and you thought it was game time. But we still had the anthems. First, the Canadian anthem, which was followed by the Star Spangled Banner. Fergie decided that she would turn Francis Scott Key’s composition into a steamy, sultry, lounge act from back in the day. To put it kindly, she missed the mark. Charles Barkley said at halftime that he needed a cigarette after her performance. It wasn’t quite Carl Lewis or Roseanne Barr-level of terrible, but it just capped a half hour-plus of strangeness that anyone who watched was never getting back. All of this just reaffirmed why I don’t generally indulge in these exhibitions. But then something funny happened. 

The game
The NBA smartly changed formats for All-Star selection this year. The league went playground style, having two captains choose their teams. LeBron James and Steph Curry were the two captains in charge of selecting from the voted-in All-Stars. The game, unlike recent years, had a different kind of competitive feel from the jump. Yes, it had the usual array of dunks and incredible passes, which the game should have. But there was defense played and fouls taken. Strategy was employed. To the players and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s credit, the changes were a home run. The game came down to the last possession with Team Steph having a chance to tie with a three. Team LeBron played great defense and Curry could not get a shot off, giving Team LeBron the 148-145 victory. The game had the best of both worlds — incredible athletes showing off their skills and a level of care and compete not seen in a long time. And Embiid had an excellent All-Star debut with 19 points, eight boards and a great sequence where he nailed a rainbow three-pointer and then swatted Russell Westbrook at the other end of the floor.

Lesson here: tune in at tip-off. And no more Rob Riggle. Ever.