By day, Philadelphia was overcome by Bryce Harper hysteria, but it was the Sixers' two newly-acquired stars that shined by night.
Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler led the way as the Sixers snapped a 19-game losing streak to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 108-104 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The last time the Sixers beat the Thunder was Nov. 15, 2008, a game that featured GM Elton Brand in the starting lineup.
All-Stars Joel Embiid (knee) and Paul George (shoulder) were both out Thursday night.
The victory brings the Sixers to 40-22 on the season.
Here are observations from the win:
• The Sixers’ ball movement was extraordinary at times. The unselfish brand of basketball they're playing is leading to some pretty buckets.
They had 13 assists on 16 makes in the first quarter and 21 on 25 in the first half. To the Thunder's credit, they turned up the defense in the third, going on a 16-4 run late in the period to get them within two and eventually tie the game in the fourth. The Sixers held on and still finished with 33 assists on 42 made field goals. Impressive against a strong defensive basketball team in OKC.
• Before the Phillies got Harper, the Sixers landed Harris. Sometimes you don’t realize how good a player is until you get to watch him on a nightly basis. That is definitely the case for me with Harris. I knew he could play, but man, this guy is really freaking good.
He dropped a Sixers-high 32 points (11 of 19, 5 of 7 from three) after dropping 29 the other night in New Orleans. He hit some enormous buckets down the stretch. He also made two fanastic defensive plays at the rim late in the fourth quarter to help keep the Sixers in front. This was easily his best performance as a Sixer.
As mentioned many times, there is nothing flashy about his game. He can score on all three levels and do so at an elite level. He’s good with the ball. He’s good off the ball. His skills also fit in so well with Ben Simmons’ and Embiid’s.
Brand pulled a master stroke with this trade and, like Matt Klentak with Harper, will likely look to lock up the 26-year-old for a long time this offseason.
• There’s been a lot of talk about Butler needing to take more shots. Sometimes, that may be the case, but perhaps Butler is fine just the way he is, playing efficient basketball and picking his spots to be aggressive.
Butler isn’t Allen Iverson. He’s not the type of player that needs to jack up 30-plus shots in order to get his. It also looks like Butler has fully embraced the role of facilitator and initiator of the offense. He nearly recorded a triple-double with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
• Brett Brown has found something with the way he’s been using Simmons recently. Simmons is a doing a ton of damage in the post and that continued against the Thunder.
He was able to bully former Sixer Jerami Grant for an early bucket and consistently took the smaller Russell Westbrook into the weight room. He recorded his ninth triple-double this season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
Simmons also went with the exact same defensive strategy teams use on him against Westbrook. He sagged way off the All-Star guard and allowed him to take as many outside looks as he wanted. It seemed to work as Westbrook went just 8 of 24 for 23 points.
• Jonah Bolden got the start and turned in a solid performance Thursday. He tied a rookie career high with 14 points on 6 of 7 from the field and 2 of 3 from three. More importantly, he played solid defense and, even more importantly, he played disciplined basketball.
The rotational issue that is fair tonight is the decision to play Amir Johnson and not just see what you have in Justin Patton.
Brown has an allegiance to Johnson and wants to reward the veteran for being a great teammate and continuing to be ready to play. But we all already know what Johnson is. Give the kid a chance and see if he can give you something. You can just as easily pull him out of the game if he looks overmatched.
• With no Embiid and Steven Adams being a beast on the glass, this seemed like a board battle the Sixers would lose, much like last Saturday against the Blazers. But the Sixers did a great job of team rebounding as each team finished with 44 rebounds. Adams had eight offensive boards, but nobody else on the Thunder had one.
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