Against a fully stacked Philadelphia lineup, the Thunder worked to attack the rim and hunt paint touches on each possession. The 76ers' size on the defensive end proved to be disruptive for the Thunder who fell behind big in the third quarter after a Philly run fueled by turnovers.
Coming into Monday’s game, the majority of the 76ers’ lineup was questionable for play. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault acknowledged pregame that if Philadelphia’s MVP contender Joel Embiid was a part of the lineup, the game would require sharp execution from OKC. Embiid started on Monday after missing the previous game with shoulder soreness and the Thunder would have the opportunity to put its sharpness and execution to the test on both ends of the floor.
It was a strong offensive start for both teams in the first 12 minutes of play. The Thunder attacked the paint on each possession, determined not to let the big, physical Philadelphia defense dictate what it could do on the offensive end. The aggressive attack led to three early dunks from Moses Brown and 20 paint points for the Thunder in the first quarter compared Philly’s 14. By end of the frame, OKC trailed 34-26.
“That's pretty much the emphasis every game. We want to touch the paint and be aggressive,” said Thunder wing Kenrich Williams who scored six of his eight points inside the paint. “Philly has a great defense. They play great defense. They've got a bunch of long, lengthy defenders. They've got two solid big men, so it kind of made it tough for us tonight.”
Despite the looming 7-foot presence of Joel Embiid at the rim and the towering Dwight Howard off the bench, the Thunder remained aggressive in its attack, but it wasn’t just the Thunder’s big men contributing to the paint production. OKC’s point guards and slashers all showed fearlessness in their drives to the basket. Thunder guard Ty Jerome went a perfect 4-for-4 inside the lane for eight points while Darius Bazley logged 12 of his own.
However, the aggressive downhill attack wouldn’t be enough to overpower the multidimensional scoring efforts of Philly. While the thunder held the slight 28-26 edge in paint points in the first half, the 76ers shot 53 percent from deep on 7-of-13 shooting as OKC made just three triples over the first two frames. Philadelphia, who ranks first in the league in percentage of points from the free throw line, also benefitted from the free points from Embiid who went 4-for-5 from the charity stripe in the first half.
Down 13 with just 4.6 seconds left to go in the first half, the Thunder had the ball on the sidelines with an opportunity spark some momentum in its favor and to go into halftime with the wind at its back. On the inbounds pass, however, the lanky 76ers defense stymied the Thunder’s attempt at a play and instead stole the pass, erupted down the floor as Ben Simmons slammed it home to send the margin to 15 points heading into halftime.
Philly carried over its momentum to the tune of an 11-2 run fueled primarily by run-outs off of Thunder turnovers. The third quarter saw 10 turnovers by the Thunder that led to 17 points on the other end for Philly who ranks second in steals per game and second in defensive rating. By the end of the night, the 76ers forced 30 turnovers by the Thunder which translated to 35 extra points on the other end.
“At the end of the day this is a good defensive team. They're sharp, they're long and they're athletic and you've got to really fight for every single little execution moment that you can,” said Daigneault. “We lost the fight on that particular play and it resulted in a run-out dunk. So it's a good opportunity for us to learn when we're back in that situation again.”
“It is a challenge,” said Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokuševski. “It's just going into the paint where there are big guys like Embiid and Ben Simmons, but you have to go aggressively without making turnovers. So we just gotta go in there and try to find a better solution.”
Play of the Game
While Philly’s defense caused significant disruption to the Thunder’s offense, there was a play in the third quarter that demonstrated the results of sharp execution and making the simple play. In the backend of the third quarter, the ball zipped around the perimeter and touched the hands of every single player in a Thunder uniform. The quick movement of the ball put the 76ers in a blender defensively. As a result, Théo Maledon was left with a simple shot-fake read in the corner that led to a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.
“We just need more of those. We obviously turned it over a ton tonight. On that play in particular, it was six or seven really, really simple passes, and I just thought we got a little over-aggressive tonight against their team,” said Daigneault. “Their length and their athleticism certainly bothers you when you do that and we paid the price tonight and it's obviously a good learning opportunity for us.”
Stat of the Night22
Points for Ty Jerome. After logging two points in the first quarter, the second-year guard operated at a high gear through the remaining three quarters starting with a 10-point performance in the second frame on the way to 22 points for the night – one point shy of tying his career high.
With four made 3-pointers, Ty logged his 10th game for the Thunder this season with three or more made 3-pointers and his fifth game with four or more. Even still, Jerome’s scoring stemmed from more than one source as he went a perfect 4-for-4 in the paint and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
“I thought he was good. He just played,” said Daigneault. “The scoreboard didn't impact his game, he made the right plays, he took the right shots, he competed defensively, I throw [Bazley] in that category as well. Those are the two guys that really stood out in that way tonight. I was pretty impressed with just the way that they kind of kept their head through the ups and downs of the game.”
“No matter what the score is, we as a group want to make sure we play the right way finish games the right way,” said Jerome. “We know where we are right now it's about getting better every day. So as a group, we just want we just want to keep doing that.”
Quotes of the Night
“Right now, that's what we're focusing on is how can we leverage the situation, as uncomfortable as it might be, into building a foundation for this particular cycle of the team. We're trying to remain optimistic. We're obviously losing the games, but there's a lot of wins going on behind the scenes. There's a lot of developmental wins that are going on and that's we're going to focus on. We're going to use these situations to build character and we're going to use these situations to see who's with us in our locker room. We've been pretty impressed with how a young group has been able to handle the adversities of the season, including this particular stretch.”
The Thunder will have to quickly put this one behind it and prepare for a quick turnaround on the second night of a back-to-back. The group will travel to Boston where it will face yet another high-caliber Eastern Conference foe headlined by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“Get some rest tonight. It’s a short flight and do the same thing again,” said Jerome. “Come out, try to improve on things we can from tonight's game by watching the film of last time we played Boston. Another really good high-level team on the road so should be another good one.”