NBA summer league: Sixers fall to Thunder in OT after improbable comeback as Shake Milton leaves with apparent injury

NBA summer league: Sixers fall to Thunder in OT after improbable comeback as Shake Milton leaves with apparent injury

Summer league games are usually not the cleanest or sharpest, but they’re often interesting, in their own way. Monday's matchup between the Sixers and Oklahoma City Thunder was not an exhibition of beautiful basketball, but it did provide plenty of unexpected drama.

The Sixers fell in Las Vegas against Oklahoma City, 84-81, after coming back from a 31-point deficit to force overtime. Rookie Matisse Thybulle's driving layup off a pindown screen tied the game at 81 with 10.6 seconds remaining, and the Sixers got a stop on the Thunder's final possession of regulation. Oklahoma City held the Sixers scoreless in the two-minute overtime as PJ Dozier missed a long three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.

The team’s next game is Wednesday against the Pistons at 3 p.m. (NBA TV).

Marial Shayok missed Monday’s game with left knee soreness and is day-to-day, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. The second-round pick signed a two-way contract with the Sixers Sunday.

• Shake Milton had an auspicious start, knocking down a contested three-pointer from the top of the key on his first shot attempt after making just 4 of his first 29 shots in summer league.

That was, however, his best moment of the day. Milton left the game late in the second quarter after appearing to injure his ankle stepping on the foot of first-round pick Darius Bazley. Milton, who walked to the locker room after the play, had five points on 2 for 7 shooting and four turnovers.

• Zhaire Smith was the Sixers’ best player.

He missed his first four shots but made 8 of his next 15, including a pull-up three from the left wing early in the fourth quarter, and finished with a team-high 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Smith has made some mistakes in summer league — including four turnovers vs. the Thunder — but you expect he’ll benefit from the chance to play and learn from those errors in a relatively low-pressure setting. 

• The points of emphasis for Thybulle as a rookie will likely be playing disruptive defense and knocking down three-point shots. Those are two things he can do immediately at the NBA level. 

A secondary, long-term focus for Thybulle should be ball handling. On one first-quarter play Monday, he pump faked from the right wing, took a weak dribble to the middle and was stripped. On a second-quarter play, Thybulle started an unsure drive to the hoop, lost control on a behind-the-back move and had to kick it back out behind the three-point line. While developing his handle will take time and isn’t essential for his rookie year, at a minimum he’ll need to be stronger with the ball come the regular season. 

Thybulle had 14 points on 4 for 10 shooting (2 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two steals.

His instincts and closing speed on defense remain highly impressive. He read this pass and swiped the ball with ease.

• When you watch a game involving Norvel Pelle, it’s a good bet that you’re going to see one or two eye-opening, above-the-rim blocks.

The Sixers will hope they can continue refining his other tools as a rim protector, including the ability to defend without fouling and choose the right gambles to make. Pelle’s athleticism and shot blocking are outstanding skills, but they’re not necessarily enough to cement an NBA future. 

• Pelle only played six minutes Monday as the Sixers gave Christ Koumadje an extended look. In 20 minutes, the 7-foot-4 Koumadje had 10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. 

• Dozier and Jalen Jones were not bashful about shooting the ball, and neither had much success. The pair combined to shoot 3 for 27. 

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Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

It was a strange night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, everything has felt strange since we found out that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

But on Tuesday, it was time for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to play basketball again. The team honored Bryant, the NBA great and Philadelphia native, in a touching pregame tribute.

Embiid did it by returning to the floor after missing nine games and scoring 24 points in a 115-104 win over the Warriors (see observations), drawing upon the way Bryant played his decorated 20-year career.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Like I keep saying, Kobe meant something different than anybody else. It was tough, but I know just looking at his career and what he was about, that 'Mamba Mentality.' It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else and I know he would want everybody to go out and compete hard and play the game and try to win. That's what he was about. It was tough but that's how you honor him.”

Beyond his play on the floor, Embiid reached out to another Hall of Famer for help to honor Kobe.

Bobby Jones’ No. 24 was retired by the Sixers in 1986. Known as “The Secretary of Defense,” Jones was a five-time All-Star and an 11-time All-Defensive Team pick. Sixers equipment manager Scotty Rego, who’s been with the team for over 32 years, had a hand in helping arrange everything. A phone call was arranged for Embiid and Jones earlier in the day.

Jones’ only caveat was that Embiid have a strong defensive effort — like Jones and Bryant, a 12-time All-Defensive Team pick himself.

“Bobby, he's a legend,” Embiid said. “He's got his number retired. He's a Hall of Famer. It's always tough to be in that situation, but he was incredible. He was forthcoming. I'm really grateful that he let me have this opportunity to wear that number. It's a tough decision, but he was all for it and I'm really thankful.”

Will he continue to wear it?

“No, I'm not keeping it. It was just for one game. You can't disrespect the greatness of Bobby Jones. He was a great player at his time. His number is retired. Like I said, I'm extremely grateful that he let me have that opportunity to wear that. I'm back to my number.”

Embiid getting the opportunity to play and wear the number wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Embiid was listed as questionable pregame and had to be cleared by a hand surgeon. He'd missed the past two and a half weeks after tearing a ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

When he spoke to reporters last week for the first time since his surgery, he mentioned the team’s spot in the standings has fueled him to want to get back in the lineup faster. With their win tonight, the Sixers are a half game ahead of the Pacers for the fifth seed and just 2 ½ games behind the Raptors for No. 2.

They also have a difficult stretch of games upcoming. After traveling to Atlanta to take on the lowly Hawks, they finish the road trip with games against the Celtics, Heat and Bucks — all teams ahead of them in the conference.

Embiid is gearing up for that slate but didn’t look all that rusty Tuesday aside from his five turnovers. Most importantly, he said his finger wasn’t in any pain.

“No, it's not,” Embiid said. “I'm fine. I'm wearning a lot of straps on it. I will probably blame that on the amount of turnovers I had today. So that was the reason, but I'm wearing a lot of straps on it so takes a lot of adjustment, but it's fine.”

With the Sixers beginning to pull away in the fourth, Embiid got the ball in the post on Eric Paschall. It was an obvious mismatch and Embiid went to work. With a double team looming, Embiid turned toward the baseline.

He hit a fadeaway. Wearing No. 24. Earning his 24th point of the game.

“Well, that was cool. I didn't know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fadeaway — that was what [Kobe] was about. I actually yelled ‘Kobe.’ A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that's how we've always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go ‘Kobe,’ so that was cool. And then for it to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot.”

It was a fitting end to a difficult night.

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Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith scored the first NBA basket of his second professional season Tuesday night, driving in for a dunk early in the second quarter of the Sixers’ 115-104 win over the Warriors at Wells Fargo Center.

His teammates enjoyed that moment, but the 20-year-old had earned their respect before he’d done anything on the court. Smith, who’d previously worn No. 8, had on a No. 7 jersey Tuesday night. He’s decided to wear No. 5 moving forward, a number that he says has no real significance to him. (No. 5 wasn’t available Tuesday and No. 7 was a temporary replacement.)

Smith made that decision to honor the life of Kobe Bryant. On Sunday, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people who died in a helicopter crash. 

“When I decided, they respected me and gave me dap,” Smith said of his teammates. 

Bryant is the reason Smith had gone with No. 8. The Sixers have retired No. 2 in honor of Moses Malone, which would have been his first choice.

“Pre-draft, I really wanted 2 to come out of [Texas] Tech, but that’s retired. And then I found out 8 was available and I said, ‘Oh, that’s Kobe.’ So, I did that for him.”

Smith isn’t usually one for extended, elaborate answers, but he added a little humor to a largely somber night with a tale about how he once tried to emulate Bryant. 

“I think I heard one of his stories where he was in the gym since 6 a.m., went home, came back,” he said. “I tried to do that for one day but my body was dead, so I never did that again.” 

Tuesday’s game was just the eighth of Smith’s NBA career. After being acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade, he’s broken his foot, suffered a severe allergic reaction, had feeding tubes in his stomach, lost and regained over 35 pounds and played 30 G-League games. Oh, and he sprained his left ankle Saturday night vs. the Lakers in his first NBA action of the season.

With the Delaware Blue Coats, Smith has been “hunting threes” and working on refining his guard skills after playing power forward in his lone year at Texas Tech. Still, his trademark quality is his athleticism. 

While Smith isn’t a scorer in Bryant’s mold and has been taught to avoid most two-points shots outside of the paint, he admired the five-time NBA champion’s game and referred to him as his “idol” growing up. 

“His fadeaway,” Smith said. “Even though that’s kind of a bad shot in the league right now, that was unguardable.”

Surrounded by a scrum of reporters likely larger than any he’s seen since becoming a Sixer, there was one question of the flurry fired his way that especially made Smith light up.

He was asked what he planned to do with the warmup jersey hanging in his locker with “PHILA” on the front, Bryant’s name and the number 8 on the back. 

“I’m going to hang it in my man cave when I get a crib,” he said. “In about 10 years, it’ll be in my man cave.”

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