Russell Westbrook vs. the Sixers
There were a few times during the game that it was Westbrook vs. Ben Simmons with the two trading dunks on both ends, including a Simmons steal and dunk to tie the game 101-101. But, there’s a reason that Westbrook is the NBA’s reigning MVP. His experience level was on full display in both offensive and defensive sets. He wasn’t the only one scoring big for the Thunder — Paul George finished with 31 points — but it was Westbrook’s energy and unwillingness to stop that gave the Thunder the edge. He finished the night with a game-high 37 points to go with 14 assists, and 9 rebounds. Westbrook combined with Paul George for 24 points in the third when the Sixers had just 25 as a team in the quarter.
Sixers forced to play physical
The Sixers knew what they were going to get in Oklahoma City. In the team’s last meeting at the Wells Fargo Center, the game went to triple overtime and was possibly the most physical game the Sixers had played. There was more of the same on Sunday in OKC. The Thunder did not back down because of Embiid’s size, they used big bodies to tie up the Sixers, and made them work for everything. The Sixers deserve credit for the way they competed against the Thunder, they never let OKC get comfortable and stuck around until the end. These are the kinds of games that hold valuable lessons for the Sixers, this is the type of basketball that they’ll face if the make it into the postseason.
With physicality comes foul trouble
Joel Embiid picked up three fouls in the first half and Dario Saric, who started to come alive in the second half, picked up his fifth foul with just over four minutes left in the third quarter. The Thunder weren’t without their own foul problems. It’s a good sign for the Sixers that when foul trouble cramped the front court, Brett Brown had Richaun Holmes in his back pocket. He gave an incredibly valuable six minutes off the bench (something to think about). The Sixers were able to chip away at a 9-point Thunder lead to tie the game in the fourth while Holmes was on the floor. Brown trusted Embiid to play with his mounting foul count, and Embiid was able stay on the floor but there was a significant difference in his ability to defend physically.
Robert Covington has a rough night
His shooting hasn’t been as reliable as it was to start the season, it’s been hit or miss on nights when he’s on from deep. But it wasn’t the three-point shooting that was detrimental in OKC. Covington missed two crucial layups in the fourth quarter and was slow on some defensive assignments and switches that gave way to open lanes for the Thunder.
Justin Anderson continues to grow
He’s had consecutive games with 12 points since JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless went to the bench with injuries and even though it was a loss in Oklahoma City, Anderson’s athleticism and physicality remained positives for the Sixers. He finished with nine points and five rebounds off the bench getting to the free throw line for a team-high five shots, of which he converted on all five.