Game Review | Another Spirited Bout, but OKC Prevails Again
There was no overtime period Sunday, let alone three, but an anticipated re-match between the 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t lack for entertainment value. Not in the least.
Much like their first meeting of the season six weeks ago in South Philadelphia, the Sixers and OKC battled away in a spirited, physical, closely-contested affair.
There were a bevy of ferocious dunks, there were staredowns, there was ample star power.
As was the case in December, it was the Thunder that again prevailed, taking Round 2 by the tally of 122-112.
In a pairing of the two of the NBA’s best teams in January, the Sixers bowed for just the third time in 10 appearances this month, resulting in Oklahoma City sweeping the teams’ two-game season series.
The Thunder’s victory marked their 18th in a row over the Sixers, and kept the visitors winless at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“They’ve won eight in a row for a reason,” said Brett Brown. “The physicality of the game, against men, really stands out when you come into this gym.”
The Sixers were paced by Joel Embiid, who, with 27 points (10-16 fg, 3-4 3fg, 4-4 ft) and 10 rebounds, turned in his second double-double in a row, and 22nd overall this year.
Ben Simmons was again a standout, supplying an efficient 22 points (10-14 fg), 4 boards, and 7 dimes. His slam midway through the third quarter pushed the Sixers’ margin to seven, 75-68, which was a game-high.
From there, OKC flicked the switch, using its defense to turn the tide of Sunday’s tilt. Taking advantage of a string of Sixer turnovers, the Thunder punctuated the third period on a 24-8 blitz, en route to building up a 92-83 lead entering the fourth.
The Sixers immediately responded with a 10-2, and clawed back within a point three times before locking things up at 101-101 on one of Simmons’ several highlight jams. Then it was time for Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams to close the deal.
After setting up Carmelo Anthony (16 pts) for a tie-breaking three, Westbrook fed Adams for consecutive baskets. The Sixers managed to drew within four, 111-107, at the three and a half minute mark, but Westbrook, the reigning MVP, nailed a triple and pull-up jumper on successive possessions to put Sunday’s game out of reach.
Westbrook topped all players with 37 points (14-33 fg, 1-6 3fg, 8-11 ft). He flirted with his 16th triple-double, manufacturing 14 assists and 9 rebounds as well.
Adams, meanwhile, had a massive showing inside. He went for 20 points and 13 rebounds, 10 of those coming on the offensive glass.
Paul George enjoyed a potent night, too, tacking on 31 points (9-17 fg, 4-9 3fg, 9-11 ft). He was particularly key during the late third-quarter surge that got the Thunder back into contention.
Rivalry Picks Up
Between last month’s marathon triple-overtime duel, and Sunday’s intense re-match, the Sixers’ season series with Oklahoma City had no shortage of competitiveness.
As was the case at The Center on December 15th, when the Thunder outlasted the Sixers 119-117, Sunday’s contest featured plenty of flare, both in terms of style of play, and the nature of interactions among participants.
Brett Brown wasn’t too surprised.
“You know the roster that [the Thunder] have that you are going to be in for a fist fight,” said the Sixers’ fifth-year head coach. “They are a big team, they are a physical team. You roll out gold medalists and All-Stars...you know you are in for a long night.”
For OKC, Russell Westbrook has become one of the biggest personalities - if not the biggest - in the NBA. Steven Adams gives the Thunder extra ruggedness, and a big heart.
On the Sixers’ end, there’s Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They are the faces of a franchise on the rise, and always seem up for a challenge.
Over the course of a back-and-forth affair highlighted by a combined 14 dunks, each side seemed to be pushed by the other. Simmons accounted for a game-high four slams, while Adams threw down three, and Westbrook two.
“There are so many athletes,” Embiid said of Sunday’s game. “There were just a lot of dunks, and it is just a show. It is fun to watch.”
Second-Half Turnovers Influence Outcome
Keyed by a flurry from Dario Saric (16 pts, 5-8 fg, 3-5 3fg), the Sixers strung together an auspicious start to Sunday’s third quarter. They ripped off 18 points within the first four and a half minutes of the second half, stretching their margin to a game-best seven points, 75-68.
Not too long after that, the turnovers began to pile up, with seven coming in the last five minutes of the frame. Oklahoma City pounced on the Sixers’ miscues, converting the giveaways into 11 points.
“I think we played well until almost the end of the third quarter,” said Joel Embiid. “Then we just got messed up, and we weren’t able to recover.”
By evening’s end, the Sixers had committed 18 turns, compared to the Thunder’s 11. OKC wound up outdoing the Sixers in points off turnovers, 25-18.
“It was one of those games where they made runs,” Ben Simmons said. “Down the stretch, they made bigger plays. We didn’t take care of the ball and execute.”
Steven Adams might not get the accolades or draw the same type of publicity that his Olympic, All-Star teammates Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George do, but he’s proven to be a vital component to Oklahoma City’s core.
Before tip-off, Brett Brown had high praise for Adams, and the tangible and intangible qualities he offers.
Adams then proceeded to have a major influence on Sunday’s game. After going for 8 points and 6 rebounds (5 offensive boards) in the opening quarter, he managed to overcome foul trouble to play a key part in OKC’s closing kick.
During the last seven minutes of action, Adams powered his way to 8 points without missing a shot, and corralled five boards, all but one of them yielding a second-chance for the Thunder.
“[He’s] really tough,” Australian Ben Simmons said of Adams, a fellow Pacific Islander who hails from New Zealand. “He’s strong and physical, he’s a great defender. Offensively, he gets to the rim. He’s a great player.”
There were a slew of dunks Sunday, each seemingly delivered with overpowering, pulverizing, seismic force. Appropriately, this poster-worthy conversion marked the Sixers’ first slam of the evening. Just sick...
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 28, 2018
From the heartland of America, to the banks of Lake Michigan, the Sixers will fly nearly 900 miles overnight to complete a difficult back-to-back Monday, when they’ll meet the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Just last weekend, the two Eastern Conference foes squared off at The Center, with the Sixers prevailing, 116-91. By the next time the Bucks took the floor for a game, they had a new head coach, with Joe Prunty replacing Jason Kidd on an interim basis. Since then, Milwaukee, which, as of Sunday, was a half game ahead of the Sixers in the standings, has won three in a row.