Sixers' OT loss to Thunder will sting as nagging problems aren't going away

Sixers' OT loss to Thunder will sting as nagging problems aren't going away


The Sixers fell to their fifth loss in seven games Friday night, a 127-119 overtime defeat to the Thunder that will sting.

They had a chance to take the lead on their final possession of regulation but couldn’t generate a good shot, with Joel Embiid settling for a long two from the left wing late in the shot clock. Especially given the high volume of whistles being blown in the final few minutes, the Sixers surely would have preferred an Embiid drive or post-up on Steven Adams in that spot. Danilo Gallinari missed a jumper that would have won it for Oklahoma City at the buzzer. 

In overtime, Tobias Harris fouled out with 2:48 to go, and the Sixers wilted from that point. 

Embiid, who’d missed Wednesday’s loss to the Magic (injury management/left knee soreness), had 31 points and 12 rebounds in the loss, while Josh Richardson scored 28, his most as a Sixer, on 10 for 15 shooting. Gallinari (28 points) and Chris Paul (27) led the Thunder.

The Sixers play the Cavaliers next, on Sunday at 3 p.m. (NBCSP+).

Here are observations from Friday’s loss:

The gang gets back together

For the first time since last Wednesday in Utah, the Sixers’ normal starting five opened the game together.

They won their first six-minute stretch, 14-8, with good ball and player movement out of the post against the smaller Thunder. And, when Embiid exited in the first quarter, Al Horford was excellent as the playmaking hub of the offense in the half court. 

Before Friday night, they’d played just 42 minutes as a unit, posting a plus-15.2 net rating.

The starters’ spacing and sense of each other on the floor are clearly nowhere near where they’d like it to be yet, but the defensive potential and massive team size are still there. It’s worth tracking how this experiment develops over time, and frankly, they simply haven’t had much time yet. 

Harris stops his skid

It didn’t take long for Harris to break his slump of 23 straight misses from three-point range. He nailed a jumper from the left corner a little over two minutes into the game off a nice post feed from Ben Simmons. Horford set an effective weak side screen on a sleepy Terrance Ferguson, too. 

A historically above-average shooter like Harris — or just about any NBA player, for that matter — was eventually going to make a three again.

Of course, he followed up his streak of misses by making two in a row.

Nagging problems

The Sixers’ turnovers are a persistent problem. They had eight in the first half vs. the Thunder, ranging from a forced entry pass by Matisse Thybulle to Horford in the high post to a careless lob by Simmons to Horford that thudded off the underside of the backboard.

Free throw disparity has been a significant issue the last two games. With the Thunder earning 20 more points from the foul line Friday, the Sixers have now allowed 52 more points than they’ve scored on free throws this season.

Those two factors were the main reasons why Oklahoma City was able to turn an 11-point first-quarter deficit into a five-point halftime lead. With the volume of free points they’ve given opponents, it’s been difficult for the Sixers to take control of games.

Another milestone for Embiid 

Embiid passed 4,000 career points Friday, becoming the second fastest Sixer to do so — Wilt Chamberlain was the quickest. 

He’s the one Sixers starter shooting above his career average from three-point territory. After a 4 for 8 night in Oklahoma City, Embiid is shooting 41.2 percent from long distance.

Though he held the ball too long on several possessions, Embiid mostly made smart decisions out of the post. He turned it over only once, while Horford went 36 minutes without a turnover.

Embiid was, however, not aggressive enough in rolling to the rim, and in sealing deep when he had favorable matchups. He lingered around the perimeter too often in the fourth quarter and overtime. 

A mixed bag for Simmons 

It was far from a flawless performance — he had five turnovers and was too passive at times offensively — but Simmons was mostly a positive for the Sixers. 

In addition to his offensive production, Simmons defended Shai Gilgeous-Alexander well, although the Thunder guard picked it up in the second half. 

Simmons also converted four straight free throws after missing his first two, which brings him to 55.9 percent on the year. 

As usual, he was dangerous on the fast break.

A bad night for the bench 

Furkan Korkmaz filled in for Richardson for much of the fourth quarter and did not fare well, being beaten off the dribble on several occasions. It was the same story in overtime after Harris fouled out. He also shot just 1 for 7 on the night.

In total, the Sixers’ bench hit 4 of 15 shots and was outscored by Oklahoma City’s second unit, 22-11.


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Joel Embiid dominates, Tobias Harris comes alive in second as Sixers down Celtics

Joel Embiid dominates, Tobias Harris comes alive in second as Sixers down Celtics


Joel Embiid said Tuesday night that he hasn't been having fun this season. It looked like he was having a blast at TD Garden Thursday.

In what was easily Embiid's finest game of the season, the Sixers ramped up their defense in the second half to beat the Celtics, 115-109.

Al Horford did not play against his former team as he's dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness.

Embiid was his dominant self and Tobias Harris had an outstanding second half in helping give Boston its first home loss of the season. The Sixers also did well to hold Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to a combined 8 of 27.

The victory improves the Sixers to 6-7 on the road and 19-7 overall. They've won 12 of their last 14. They’ll be right back at it again Friday night as they host JJ Redick and the Pelicans at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win:

A different Embiid

Whether it was Embiid taking heed of the national criticism or not, the All-Star center did play with a different energy. Like many before them, the Celtics double teamed him at just about every opportunity early. As the game went on, they gave him more 1-on-1 looks against Enes Kanter with mixed results.

To Embiid’s credit, he wasn’t forcing things. He did well to be patient, getting himself baskets and finding cutters and shooters with regularity. He also didn’t have a turnover in the first half and had just two for the game. 

One thing that seemed to help Embiid a bit were his minutes with Josh Richardson. Richardson, playing just his second game since missing the previous six, is one of the few Sixers that can create off the dribble and also hit outside shots. The pick-and-roll pairing is developing. You also saw a little of the “snug” action — a pick-and-roll initiated in the post — with Embiid and Simmons. Give Brett Brown credit for trying to get his “crown jewel” in different actions and trying to get him different looks.

With 4:04 left in the game, Embiid buried a three to give the Sixers a 100-92 lead and got fired up afterward. It sure looked like he was having fun out there as he finished with a season-high 38 points (12 of 21), 13 rebounds and six assists. He also had a nasty block on Daniel Theis which essentially sealed the game.

It’s not how you start …

As we’ve seen over the years, Brown likes to keep certain players together and doesn’t use typical substitution patterns. The duo of Simmons and Harris had a tough first half.

Harris went just 3 of 11 in the first half, but he kept the aggressive mentality he’s shown lately. He attacked his mismatches, posting up Boston’s smaller players and taking their bigs off the dribble. He hit 7 of his 9 shots after halftime. He finished 10 of 20 overall for 23 points and also added eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

It was a rough start for Simmons. He committed two early turnovers as the Celtics had a clear plan to clog the paint. The Sixers shot the ball well from three in the first half (9 of 17) and that did help open things up a bit for Simmons. Like Harris, Simmons did have a couple post ups to take advantage of smaller players. The Sixers playing better defense in the second helped Simmons push the pace a bit more, as well. Still, this was another lackluster game from Simmons offensively. He finished with just seven points and had six assists but five turnovers.

Simmons has been excellent on the defensive end this season but did have trouble with the slippery Kemba Walker in the first half. The All-Star guard has always given the Sixers fits and that’s part of the reason Simmons picked up three fouls and sat out the last 2:36 of the first half. Much like the rest of the Sixers, his defense went up a notch in the second half. Walker went just 1 of 8 after halftime after shooting 7 of 13 in the first.

Defense finds its legs after halftime

In the first half, the Sixers’ defense was not at the level it’s been recently. They came into the game as the fourth-best rated defensive team in the league and were coming off a game in which they gave up just 92 points to the Nuggets.

Thursday night was a different story at the start. Boston was simply beating the Sixers off the dribble and punishing them with middle pick-and-rolls. That allowed the Celtics to shoot 53.3 percent from the field and to hold a 32-22 advantage in the paint. That gap closed to 48-44 by the end of the game

The Sixers did make adjustments as it appeared they switched more on the perimeter and the five man hedged a little harder. Boston scored just 21 points in the third and the Sixers came away with several timely defensive stands down the stretch.

Though Richardson was still on a minutes restriction, he showed you his value by chasing Walker the most effectively and being disruptive on that end.

Thybulle can shoot on the road

It was an interesting night for Matisse Thybulle. The rookie, who was actually selected by the Celtics before a draft-night trade made him a Sixer, also had his struggles with Walker early. Thybulle played Walker tough in the season opener but seemed to have issues navigating screens, something he generally does extremely well. Like Simmons, his defense against Walker improved.

When tasked with guarding Jaylen Brown, Thybulle did quite well. He frustrated Brown, who tried to bully the rookie in the post. Instead, Thybulle poked the ball away for a turnover and then drew an offensive foul. Thybulle had a steal and two blocks on the night.

On the offensive end, Thybulle evened his home/road shooting splits. He’d shot the three significantly better at home (20 of 30) than on the road (5 of 24) but went 2 of 4 Thursday. It’s a good sign that the 22-year-old appears to be improving as a shooter and that those splits may just be a coincidence.

Great Scott

With Horford out, Mike Scott got the start and gave the Sixers much-needed shooting. He was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Embiid drawing so much attention. He made his first four shots from the outside and finished 5 of 7 from three.

Scott was mired in a 1-of-16 slump until Brown inserted him into the starting lineup against the Cavaliers last Saturday. Since then, he’s 7 of 15.

Kyle O'Quinn, who got the backup five minutes in place of Horford, had his struggles. He finished a minus-15.

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Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Updated: 7:12 p.m.

The Sixers (18-7) will be in Boston Thursday night to take on the Celtics (17-6) at TD Garden.

This would've been Al Horford’s first appearance in Boston as a Sixer, but he's now listed as out. The veteran big, who opted out of his player option with the Celtics to join the Sixers this offseason, is dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness and just popped up on the injury report earlier today.

Boston is coming off a tough loss in Indiana last night. It was also a rough night for Boston in the injury department. Gordon Hayward, who just returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken hand, was forced to leave the game after taking a shot to the nose. He's listed as probable. Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Robert Williams (hip) will both miss their third straight game.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET 
Where: TD Garden
Broadcast: TNT
Live stats: Follow here 

And here are three storylines to watch:

Big Al returns to Boston

Even though Horford won't play, the reception he receives should be interesting. When he signed his big free-agent deal with the Celtics back in 2016, it was a move that helped the revitalization of the franchise.

Though the fan reaction will surely be mixed with Horford returning with a rival, the Celtics’ players will be happy to see him again.

“He should be celebrated,” Jaylen Brown said to NBC Sports Boston. “Boston fans, they're gonna do what they want, right? Al came here, contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since ‘08 [NBA champions]. Al served his time well here."

Brown added, “For me, he was a great leader, a great person … I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name. That’s just me.”

Just 23 games in a Sixers uniform and Horford has already had a similar impact on the players here.

“He’s just a real role model, in terms of how he lives his life,” Tobias Harris said to our Serena Winters. “There’s no real ups and downs with him. In my opinion, he’s the definition of a consistent person — comes in everyday, same attitude, same spirit, win or loss. The way he shapes his day-to-day life is inspiring for real.”

Embiid hears the criticism … and he agrees

In case you missed it, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were blunt if their criticism of Joel Embiid after Tuesday night’s win over Denver. They said they felt like the All-Star center wasn’t putting in the effort to be great.

Embiid, who said postgame Tuesday that he wasn’t having as much fun this season, wasn’t offended by the criticism. In fact, he agreed with it.

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid’s scoring numbers are down, but he’s still No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating for players averaging at least 25 minutes a game.

National TV, facing criticism, going on a tangent about not having fun, up against a rival — this seems like it’s lining up for a big night for the big man. 

J-Rich working off the rust

Josh Richardson was playing his best basketball as a Sixer when tightness in his right hamstring cost him six games. He returned Tuesday, but looked awfully rusty, going just 1 of 8 in under 20 minutes.

Though the Sixers went 5-1 in the games he missed, what the Sixers lost on both sides of the ball with Richardson out was evident. In the six games before his absence, Richardson was averaging 20.2 points while shooting a scalding 55.9 percent from three and 53.1 percent overall.

The skill the Sixers missed most was Richardson’s ability to create off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll. Brett Brown hasn’t run a ton of pick-and-roll in the past, but that’s mostly because of personnel. Richardson excels in that action and it’s one that helps the Sixers put other teams in a bind.

Richardson will still likely be on some form of minutes restriction.

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