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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2020 NBA awards: Ben Simmons isn't a Defensive Player of the Year finalist

2020 NBA awards: Ben Simmons isn't a Defensive Player of the Year finalist

Ben Simmons, the NBA’s leader in steals this season, is not a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. The three finalists announced Saturday are Rudy Gobert, the winner of that award the last two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. 

A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters voted on the NBA’s awards, which were based on games through March 11. Winners will be announced during the playoffs. 

Here’s a look at the finalists for the other awards: 

Rookie of the Year 
Ja Morant
Zion Williamson 
Kendrick Nunn

Giannis Antetokounmpo 
LeBron James 
James Harden 

Most Improved Player 
Luka Doncic 
Bam Adebayo 
Brandon Ingram 

Sixth Man of the Year 
Dennis Schroder
Lou Williams 
Montrezl Harrell

Coach of the Year 
Nick Nurse
Mike Budenholzer 
Billy Donovan 

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old, who is currently sidelined by a left patella subluxation, put together a compelling case. Among his more impressive statistics through March 11: First in steals; third in deflections per game; first in defensive loose balls recovered; 42.3 defended field goal percentage. He’s guarded point guards through centers, typically defended the opposition’s top threat late in the game and acquitted himself well against stars. 

His exclusion, however, is certainly not an egregious snub given the credentials of the finalists. Antetokounmpo is the best defender on the NBA’s top-rated defense. Davis has 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, and he’s held opponents to 38.3 percent shooting on field goals he's guarded. Gobert has defended the most field goals in the league and has a 48.2 defended field goal percentage on attempts of six feet or less, second to Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. 

Simmons, one figures, should still feature on an All-Defensive Team for the first time, and it could very well be the First Team. 

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What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

When Ben Simmons missed his first game of this season on Nov. 8 because of an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, Raul Neto started and Trey Burke played 17:34 as the Sixers’ backup point guard.

Burke was waived in February and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Brett Brown, however, often uses Burke’s surname when he’s talking about Alec Burks, whose addition prompted the release of Burke.

The prior sentence was likely confusing, but let's be clear: Brown knows the player who scored 22 points Friday night and closed out the Sixers’ 108-101 win over the Magic (see observations). He’s colorfully discussed Burks’ “streetball-type game” and “lightning in a bottle” potential, and he had more praise to dish out Friday. 

You just felt confident that something as simple as a spaced pick-and-roll — put Al (Horford) or (Joel Embiid) in, roll Joel, let Alec dance … it was a clean, simple environment that I thought he really was excellent in. He can get into the paint at times and just play bully ball. And he has the ability to create his own shot — he sometimes doesn’t even need a pick-and-roll. And so all of those things were part of the reason that I extended his minutes, and maybe none more importantly, I think, than his defense.

“I think he’s really taken pride in knowing the scouting report. I think he’s sitting in a stance and taking pride in not getting beat on the first or second dribble with live-dribble guys. And so the package just enabled me to play him more than I normally have been, and I think he was a major contributor to the win. He was our bell ringer tonight, and we need him doing those types of things going forward.

With Simmons sidelined by a left patella subluxation, Burks’ abilities to run a pick-and-roll and conjure offense from nothing become more valuable. In truth, though, his strengths are skills the Sixers lacked back in October. It’s why Burke — the 6-foot Allen Iverson admirer, not the 6-foot-6 University of Colorado product — held appeal as a backup point guard possibility. Many of the themes we’ve heard from Brown about instant offense and shot creation echo. 

“I think my skill set adjusts well — playing great in the pick-and-roll and I can read the defense, find open people,” Burks said. “I’m just trying to thrive in that and help the team any way I can.”

The Sixers need these traits because zero members of their original starting lineup have them. Josh Richardson, the player who comes closest to resembling that mould, shot 2 for 12 vs. the Magic and has struggled to find his spots in an offense where he’s far from the first option. The fact that Shake Milton can handle the ball, conduct a pick-and-roll and hit open shots boosted his case to start, as basic as it sounds. 

Though Burks and Milton’s minutes were staggered with the exception of an early-fourth quarter stretch, there were encouraging signs from both players individually. Milton had six points, a career-high eight assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. Since turning it over three times in the Sixers’ seeding game opener, he has two turnovers in 78 minutes. 

“With Shake, he’s going to continue to figure it out,” Horford said. “Obviously we all haven’t played together, and that makes a difference. He continues to feel it out, he continues to understand how he needs to play. And he was good tonight. He was solid, making the right plays … not turning the ball over. 

“And then Alec, he just has the ability to score in bunches, and we need that. We just need to continue to keep him involved and put him in positions where he can help us.”

Horford started Friday alongside Milton, as he’d done on March 11 in the Sixers’ final game before the NBA’s hiatus. He played well, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, and adding a physicality that Brown appreciated. 

Despite the aforementioned positives, the Sixers trailed the 32-38 Magic by two points after three quarters. Competent ball handling and shotmaking in Simmons’ absence is necessary, but it's fair to be skeptical about whether that would be enough in the playoffs against a team like the Celtics or Bucks. After all, none of the Sixers’ three wins at Disney World have been comfortable or against top-tier opposition. 

“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we’re looking at it is we all just have to step up a little more. It’s going to give opportunities to guys from the bench and other guys to come in to have an impact. We really don’t know. We don’t know, we just hope that he’s able to get healthy and get healthy quickly.”

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