OKLAHOMA CITY — The 76ers were a team taking advantage of undermanned squads in recent weeks.
They beat the Kyrie Irving-less Boston Celtics and the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee Bucks. The Sixers also toppled a Chicago Bulls squad that was without rising young star Kris Dunn. And they destroyed a San Antonio Spurs team minus Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay.
On Sunday, the Oklahoma City Thunder became the Sixers' sixth straight undermanned opponent. However, the Thunder were without offensively challenged role player Andre Roberson and not reigning MVP Russell Westbrook or five-time NBA All-Star Paul George or 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
The trio combined for 84 points as the Thunder (30-20) won their eighth straight game in a 122-112 victory over the Sixers at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"When they're all clicking on all cylinders like that, it's really tough to stop them," T.J. McConnell said.
The Sixers (24-22) definitely couldn't stop Westbrook or George in what was a spirited made-for-TV contest.
Westbrook had a game-high 37 points on 14-for-33 shooting. The animated playmaker yelled and flexed after many of powerful moves to the rim. The seven-time All-Star point guard also finished with a game-high 14 assists, with nine rebounds, two steals and just one turnover in 40 minutes, 37 seconds of action.
George added 31 points while making 4 of 9 three-pointers. He scored 13 points in both the first and third quarters.
It was kind of a pick-your-poison thing for the Sixers. Slide over too far to stop Westbrook, and George would hit a big shot. Then if they tried to focus on containing those two, Anthony (16 points) and center Steven Adams (20 points on 10-for-11 shooting, 13 rebounds) scored.
The Sixers were also doomed by 18 turnovers and an inability to make key stops late in the game.
"I think we played well until almost the end of the third quarter," said Joel Embiid, whose squad recorded 10 of its turnovers in the final 17:04. "From there, we just started making mistakes, turning the ball over, not being patient. We weren't moving.
"Defensively, we think are the best defensive team. We weren't that."
Embiid did his part. The All-Star paced the Sixers with 27 points and 10 rebounds to go with two blocked shots. Ben Simmons added 22 points and seven assists with just one turnover.
The duo helped to make the game exciting from the start.
The teams literally exchanged dunks and three-point baskets on ensuing possessions in the first half, which saw eight lead changes and four ties before the Sixers went into the locker room leading, 58-57.
The Sixers had a 79-74 lead after Simmons' driving floater with 5:31 left in the third quarter. But they missed their next two shots and committed five turnovers in their next seven possessions. By the time the Sixers were called for a shot-clock violation and George knocked down a three-pointer with 2:06 left in the quarter, the Thunder had gone on a 15-0 run and led, 89-79.
Showing fight, the Sixers battled back and eventually knotted the score at 101 on Simmons' driving dunk with 6:18 left. However, the Thunder went on to outscore the Sixers, 21-11, the rest of the way.
"They have three Olympians, pretty much three all-stars," Simmons said of Westbrook, George and Anthony. "It's tough to play against them. They have three guys who can score in isolation plays and Adams, who is such a big and great center.
"They are good team. It just came down to making the right plays."
Sixers reserve Trevor Booker went to the locker room in the third quarter with right-knee discomfort, after tweaking the knee in the first half. He returned to the bench but did not go back into the game. The power forward expects to play Monday in Milwaukee.
"It went away," he said of the discomfort. "But when I went back in in the second half, it came back. That's weird, but I'm good though."