By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Oklahoma City 119, Philadelphia 117 (3OT) – Box Score
Decades might go by before you see another Sixers game like the one played Friday night against Oklahoma City. For the first time since 1992, Philadelphia needed not one, not two, but three overtime periods to settle things on the scoreboard; over half the current Sixers roster wasn’t even alive then. In the end, despite a tremendous effort from Joel Embiid, visibly playing through back pain every trip down the floor, a late surge from Russell Westbrook was enough to put the Thunder over the top.
More so than the ultimately disappointing loss, Sixers fans will remember this game for Embiid’s performance. Coming off a career-high 39 minutes against Minnesota, JoJo blew that total out of the water, playing 49 minutes, as Brett Brown stuck with the five starters for the entirety of the three overtime periods. Looking like he just chased down that lion back in Africa after every play, Embiid still managed to be the driving force behind Philadelphia’s 11-0 run to finish regulation and force overtime.
In the extra frames, the Sixers worked the ball through him on nearly every possession. After 51 minutes on the court, Steven Adams fouled out trying to slow down Embiid, receiving the now-patented JoJo wave on his way to the bench. Embiid also somehow gathered the energy for not one, but two superhuman blocks of Russell Westbrook drives to the rim.
This is unreal. pic.twitter.com/oK9itqyfMF
— Danny Chau (@dannychau) December 16, 2017
When the night was over, Embiid had collected 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. But despite good defense from Ben Simmons for most of the game, Westbrook somehow had another gear during bonus basketball, finishing with 27 points, 18 rebounds, and 15 assists. A handful of jumpers and explosive finishes put the Thunder over the top, and Russell got the last wave in to Embiid and the Sixers.
Russell Westbrook had a send-off for Joel Embiid after the game: pic.twitter.com/niXxC21T1Q
— ESPN (@espn) December 16, 2017
In his return to the court following a two-game absence, Robert Covington was as ice cold on the court as the snowstorm that hit the great Philadelphia area Friday. RoCo shot just 4-21 from the field and 3-15 from three, but in spite of his inordinate inaccuracy, he still was a positive force on the court thanks to a strong defensive effort. Covington led the team in rebounds (10), tallying 3 steals and 2 blocks; his +5 plus/minus was second-best on the team to Embiid.
Ben Simmons was also good when the Thunder had the ball, helping hold Westbrook to 10-33 shooting. Simmons just missed a triple-double of his own with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 11 assists, adding 4 steals. It’s concerning that Ben has shied away from doing much of anything to create his own shot aside from dunking, largely abandoning the floaters and midrange jumpers he used to sprinkle into his offensive game. Hopefully, it’s a phase as teams have figured out to defend him, and Simmons will readjust accordingly.
With the loss, the Sixers are back to .500 at 14-14. They have a couple days off before a pair of winnable games against Chicago and Sacramento Monday and Tuesday. The only monkey wrench in the equation is Joel Embiid’s health. Something is clearly not right with his back, and after his ultra marathon Friday night, it wouldn’t be surprising for the team to give the big man an extended rest. We’ll find out in the coming days. I’ll wave goodbye for now.