In Review | Efforts in Three OT Thriller Fall Short
PHILADELPHIA, PA - With a steady snow fall blanketing the Delaware Valley throughout the afternoon and early evening, many of the 20,000-plus dedicated fans who came to watch the 76ers play Friday faced marathon commutes to South Philadelphia, amidst dicey conditions, no less.
By the time an epic, exhausting battle drew to a close, those long drives probably felt like nothing at all, or, at the very least, distant memories.
48 minutes weren’t enough Friday. Neither were 53, or 58 for that matter.
No, the Sixers and Oklahoma City Thunder’s bout at The Center required just about every last one of its 63 tightly-contested minutes, and nearly necessitated more.
With the NBA’s reigning MVP finding a decisive, extra gear as his team was being pushed to its brink, OKC managed to prevail, 119-117, in a triple overtime thriller.
Russell Westbrook scored the first six points in Friday’s third OT, then assisted on Andre Roberson’s tie-breaking reverse lay-up with 9.6 seconds to go. The bucket produced the Thunder’s winning margin.
Friday’s gruelling affair marked just the fourth time in franchise history that the Sixers were involved in a three-overtime tilt, their last one taking place in 2005-2006. Measured in real time from start to finish, the Sixers and Oklahoma City were on the floor for a ridiculous three hours, two minutes.
True to form, Westbrook spun together a diversified box line, which he stuffed with 27 points (10-33 fg, 5-12 ft), 18 boards, and 15 helpers. The triple-double was his league-leading 10th of the year.
Logging a career-high 48 minutes, Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with 34 points (11-20 fg, 12-13 ft), his second-highest total as a pro. He added 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks as well. Both swats came at the expense of the pugnacious, seemingly unsuppressable Westbrook.
In the immediate aftermath of such a demanding, draining game, Brett Brown was still trying to sort through all the dramatic twists and turns when he arrived at the press conference podium. Who could blame him? It was that type of night.
What the fifth-year head coach was certain of was that his group’s attitude was worthy of praise.
“I’m proud of the effort,” said Brown. “We fought, and had a great atmosphere.”
Contributing to the environment inside the packed house, no doubt, was that the Sixers were oh-so-close to pulling off a potentially memorable victory. Despite never holding a single lead at any point of regulation, and trailing by as many as 17 points in the opening half, the Sixers ended up forcing a tie in the last minute of the fourth quarter, and surging in front by five points in the first overtime.
The Sixers’ inspired, furious scramble began with five minutes, 35 seconds remaining, after a Raymond Felton lay-up put the Thunder ahead 94-83. From there, two of the sport’s emerging stars took over, as Embiid and Ben Simmons combined for all but three points during a game-changing 11-0 run.
The top, and arguably most important, moment from this stretch occurred with 53.1 seconds to play in the fourth, when Embiid fed Simmons for a cutting, equalizing dunk, at 94-94. Subsequent empty possessions from the Sixers and OKC alike prompted overtime.
“We were just committed to following the game plan,” said Simmons, who posted 12 points (6-10 fg) 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals, en route to his 16th double-double. “I think we played well. It just came down to a few big shots they hit.”
True, Oklahoma City came through in a handful of crucial junctures in Friday’s game. With the Sixers up 102-97 in the first overtime, Paul George (24 pts, 5 reb, 3 stl) and Westbrook strung together a 3-pointer and lay-up, respectively, on back-to-back trips down the floor. The score was 102-102, warranting Friday’s second overtime.
The Sixers, however, dialed up a handful of their own clutch shots. In overtime two, Robert Covington nailed a 3-pointer that flipped the score in the Sixers’ favor, 109-107. Moments later, a finger roll from Embiid tied the game at 111-111. The Sixers and Thunder traded misses, and it was on to overtime no. 3.
“We put ourselves in a great position to really be in the game,” said Covington, whose 11 points (4-21 fg, 3-15 3fg) and 10 rebounds yielded his second double-double of the season. “It was unfortunate that we took a loss. These are the types of losses that hurt the worst, especially all the fight we put into the game."
The third overtime opened with Westbrook sticking a 20-foot jumper. The Sixers answered with an alley-oop lay-up pass from Simmons to Saric. Westbrook then powered his way inside for a right-handed jam, 115-113, after having spiked two comparable attempts earlier in the game.
Embiid delivered a bank shot on the block to knot the score at 115-115, but Westbrook responded again, this time with a pull-up jumper. A pair of Embiid free throws locked up the score one last time, before Westbrook found Roberson for the go-ahead basket.
The Thunder’s offensive rebounding was big throughout the game, especially on the sequence leading to the Roberson score. OKC achieved an 18-7 advantage on the offensive glass.
“I think they just capitalized when they needed to,” Simmons said, referring to the Thunder’s rebounding in overtime. “I think it came down to rebounding, and stopping the ball.”
Riding the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder seized control Friday in the first quarter. Anthony, like George, an All-Star acquired in an off-season trade, netted eight points in the period, and had 16 by halftime, his team leading 55-47 at the break. The former New York Knick manufactured 24 points (11-17 fg) in all.
Embiid got going in the third frame, and the Sixers followed suit. They outscored Oklahoma City between the final two quarters, 47-39, holding the Thunder to 32.6 percent shooting.
Jerryd Bayless (14 pts, 4-6 3fg) and Dario Saric (16 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast) aided the Sixers’ cause with timely 3-point shooting.
“That comeback...was great,” said Embiid. “We’ve just got to finish.”
And such was one of the primary lessons - as difficult as it was long - the Sixers pulled away Friday.
Down the stretch of the Sixers’ overtime win Tuesday at the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid connected on several key plays. That encouraging theme resurfaced again throughout Friday’s 2-OT thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the sequences below show. Embiid’s feed to Simmons produced the basket that sent the game to overtime.
Roles reversed, same result. pic.twitter.com/2MdhyEKA3h
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 16, 2017
The Sixers head towards the Christmas holiday while also preparing to enter a busy stretch of the schedule. Monday’s trip to the Windy City marks the first of five games in eight days, a spurt that culminates with a December 25th trip to Madison Square Garden. In the Chicago Bulls (7-20), the Sixers will square off with an Eastern Conference squad in the midst of redesigning its roster around young talent. Lauri Markkanen, the seventh overall selection in this past year’s draft, has been impressive, ranking second on the team with 14.7 points per game, and pacing the club with 8.1 rebounds per contest.