Dort, Bazley Return to Lineup, but
Thunder Drops One to Philly
Game Recap: Thunder 93, Sixers 117
It was a welcome sight to glimpse Darius Bazley and Lu Dort back on the floor for the Thunder in their return from injury, and both players performed well against one of the very best teams in the NBA. Ultimately a big Philadelphia run in the second quarter and a flurry of Thunder turnovers after halftime resulted in a Thunder loss.
Maybe it was the way he smoothly rocked himself into a top of the key 3-pointer or the way he whizzed into the lane off the bounce, but it was clear that even despite missing the last 16 games for the Thunder, Darius Bazley came ready to play. Both Bazley (shoulder) and Lu Dort (concussion) returned from extended absences to start against the 76ers on Saturday night and helped the Thunder battle one of the NBA’s best with their athleticism, physicality and competitiveness.
“To not play since like All-Star and to finally be able to play, it's amazing,” said Bazley. “I was itching just wanting to play. Just being on the sideline, there's nothing like cheering on your teammates on, but nothing compares to actually really being on the floor to compete. So it felt good being back out there."
Bazley scored eight quick points on 3-for-3 shooting in the opening minutes and finished with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists and a steal in 36 strong minutes. Dort added 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting with two made 3s to go with five rebounds and assist, a block and a steal in 29 minutes played.
“(Dort) was a bolt downhill tonight. He was really, really fast downhill,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “He did a good job of timing his cuts and then he had great pace kind of turning the corner and get into the teeth of defense a couple times.
“We definitely feel their presence just from like an athleticism standpoint,” he added. “Those guys bring a lot of juice to the game in their own ways and I thought they had that tonight and will only sharpen the blade from here.”
While Bazley and Dort helped the Thunder with its initial energy, the 76ers scored efficiently early as well behind a balanced attack of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz. The Thunder kept it close, but Philadelphia spun off a 13-1 run mid-way through the second quarter, a stretch that featured five free throw attempts by Embiid and concluded with a Matisse Thybulle three-pointer to turn an 8-point Thunder deficit into a 59-39 Sixers lead with 4:31 remaining in the 1st half.
From there on the Thunder tried to make a few separate charges at Philadelphia’s lead, but each were parried away as the Sixers emerged with a 117-93 win.
AThe Thunder was still within striking distance, down just 11 after the opening possession of the second half, but Philadelphia’s long, swarming defense forced eight turnovers in the first six and a half minutes of the third quarter to stall out any momentum. The Sixers came in as one of the NBA’s most ferocious defenses and showed it coming out of the locker room to begin the final 24 minutes of play.
As the Thunder struggled to string together multiple scores in a row, Philadelphia was continuing to work their balanced attack. Embiid did some heavy lifting down low, but it was Korkmaz, who hit four 3s in the game, who put the 76ers up 20 again mid-way through the third.
Play of the Game
On the previous trip down the floor for the Thunder, Bazley got blocked by Embiid, giving the 76ers the ball and some momentum at their back. It would have been easy for Bazley to let his thoughts linger on an All-Star swatting his shot, but he instead focused on the words of his teammates and coaches, encouraging him to get the possession back by making a defensive play.
Bazley did just that, making a steal on the weak side then charging ahead into the open floor. When confronted by a closing defender, Bazley collected the ball firmly as he picked up his dribble, then kept the ball high above his 6-foot-8 frame and finished strong at the cup.
"A lot of the time guys might turn it over and teammates will just say 'It's fine. Get it back on defense' and for me to be able to do that – to stay engaged have a short memory not really let that get to me, the very next play come down and get the steal and be able to score – that felt really good,” Bazley explained. “When it comes into defense, I always want to have my presence there and let it be felt so that's definitely a point of emphasis for me every night defensively is coming out, playing hard defending well, just whatever the coaches give out give out personnel, just being able to carry that through.”
Stat of the Night14
Rebounds in the game for Tony Bradley to go with 16 points, one assist and three blocks for his first double-double since joining the Thunder in March, when he was acquired from the 76ers. Bradley worked well with teammates in side pick and roll, finishes off some well-timed passes from teammates.
“I’m just trying to creep into the open spots where my man can’t see me,” Bradley explained. “They’re so busy trying to help on defense so that one half second I get loose, maybe a guard on my team can lay it up, or that one small window where I can get into an open spot and have my hands ready.”
“Coach calls it ‘letting the play develop’ off the pick and roll with other teams in a drop,” added point guard Ty Jerome. “When the other big is far in the paint, I try to keep my guard on my back and make it a two on one with me and the big. From there, it’s just making a read, and also, Tony does a great job of getting out of those screens. He rolls really fast. He rolls into good spots. He’s always available for the ball.”
Quotes of the Night
“We want to play fast so we’re going to make some mistakes. We’re just trying to minimize the bad ones. It’s going to happen. We just have to work on it every game to try to get a little bit better at it, make it a point to get a shot up every time and keep the other team out of transition. Game by game, make it a point to get better.”
“It was a good game for us just to go against a team with that kind of length and discipline. They’re obviously a really good defensive team so they force you to work for everything and I thought our guys worked pretty hard. If anything, we're just a little sloppy with the ball, and had too many turnovers but I thought the movement and the screening and cutting, which they forced you to do to generate advantages, was pretty good and we got some cracks and had some opportunities.”
The Thunder gets two days off without a game, a stretch that it will only have two more times the rest of the season, before departing for Utah to start a road-home back-to-back set against the Jazz and then the Golden State Warriors to commence a stretch of five games in seven nights.