Sixers-Thunder observations: Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid and late-game blunders

76ers Thunder Basketball
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid went at each other again during Sunday night’s game in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Here are my key takeaways and “best” and “worst” awards from the 76ers’ 122-112 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Five observations

— Sixers coach Brett Brown believes in his team’s uptempo style of play. The only problem with it Sunday was the Thunder play the same way and are better at it. As a result, it wasn’t surprising that OKC broke the game open late.

—  Robert Covington and Dario Saric were both at disadvantages in this up-and-down contest. Covington had his hands full guarding the Thunder standouts and made just 3 of 11 shots in scoring 11 points. Saric scored 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including going 3 for 5 on threes. However, he struggles to defend athletic players, and that was apparent against OKC.

— It’s going be must-see TV the next time Russell Westbrook faces Joel Embiid. Westbrook kept his eyes glued on Embiid, who was on the bench, while the point guard dribbled out the clock in the final seconds. Westbrook had waved goodbye to Embiid after the Thunder’s 119-117 triple-overtime win on Dec. 15 — after Embiid had waved goodbye to Stephen Adams after Adams fouled out.  Also after that game, Embiid pointed out that Westbrook had benefited from 33 shots to score 27 points. So you knew Sunday’s matchup was going to be interesting. It lived up to the hype with Embiid destroying Westbrook on a dunk. That appeared to motivate the point guard, who yapped after every big play.

— This was the Sixers’ latest example of turning into an AAU team during late-game pressure situations. As Embiid pointed out, they stopped sharing the ball, forgot how to play defense and had poor execution with the game on the line. They did the same thing in their last two losses – to the Memphis Grizzlies (Jan. 22) and Boston Celtics (Jan. 11).

Paul George should be the favorite to win defensive player of the year. The Thunder small forward basically dictated where Sixers he guarded went on the court.  The NBA All-Star also finished with a game-high four steals.

‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards

— Best performance: I’m giving this to Westbrook even though he, once again, needed 33 shot attempts to score a game-high 37 points. He made 14 of his shots while managing to have a stellar all-around game. The All-Star had a game-high 14 assists to go with nine rebounds, two steal and just one turnover in 40 minutes, 37 seconds.

— Worst performance: A lot of people are killing Covington on social media for missing eight of his 11 shots and committing three turnovers. However, Terrance Ferguson would have loved to have that type of game. Aside from five rebounds, the Thunder shooting guard was just out there running up and down the court. Ferguson didn’t record an assist, a steal or even a turnover. He failed to score after missing his own shot and graded out at a team-worst minus-10. That’s why he wins the award.

— Best defensive performance: This goes to George. The Thunder standout showed why he’s an elite defender in addition to scoring 31 points.

— Worst statistic: This goes to Sixers top four reserves – Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Trevor Booker and Amir Johnson – combining to grade out at minus-60.

— Best statistic: I had to give this to OKC center Stephen Adams for making 10 of 11 shots to finish with 20 points.

— Worst of the worst: This goes to the Sixers for forgetting how to play team basketball in the clutch.