Harden-Less Sixers Cruise to Victory Over the Thunder

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 06: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) shoots the ball over Chicago Bulls Center Nikola Vucevic (9) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on February 6, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

While most of the attention is on the recent off-court events surrounding the Sixers, there was no time to pause the on-court performance. James Harden and Paul Millsap still have to clear their Sixers physicals and go through a few other steps before fully joining the team. So without James harden (and Seth Curry and Andre Drummond), the Sixers faced the youthful OKC Thunder squad, who entered the game with a record of 17-37.

First Half

There was more energy in the building than one would expect for a pre-all-star break matchup with the Thunder, likely due to the recent Harden trade. Joel Embiid got to work early and tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds in just over 10 minutes of play. This marks a career-high for first-quarter rebounds for Embiid and makes him the only Sixer in history to record a first-quarter double-double.

After missing the previous 18 games with a back injury, Shake Milton made his return for this game. He checked in at the tailed-off the first quarter for his first minutes recorded his first basket shortly after. Shake played alongside the interesting unit of Bball Paul, Georges Niang, Danny Green, and Tyrese Maxey. Ultimately the game cruised to a 24-24 score after the first quarter.

The Sixers were able to create some separation in the second quarter, but it was a poor shooting performance for both teams. The Thunder shot 17-44 (38.6%) from the field and 3-17 (17.6%) from beyond the three-point arc in the first half. The Sixers were even worse in this category shooting 16-48 (33.3%) on their field goal attempts and 1-8 (12.5%) on three-point attempts in the half. Ultimately the Sixers took a 46-41 lead into halftime.

Second Half

The second half began with multiple impressive defensive plays from Matisse Thybulle. Tyrese Maxey began to catch fire on the offensive end. Maxey ended with 24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a team-high +20 rating. The second-year guard was especially impressed with his pace off the dribble and also knocked down two three-pointers in the game.

While the Sixers played a very poor game overall, they still were much better than the lowly Thunder. They built some separation in the third quarter and pushed a lead as large as 19 points. The Thunder made some attempts to climb back in and brought it down to a 6 point game. The Sixers were able to take care of business in the end and secured a win by a score of 100-87.

Joel Embiid extended his streak of 25+ points to 22 games as he ended with 25 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks, and a steal. Embiid did not quite have the touch offensively but still found a way to impact the game heavily. Tobias Harris also had a very solid game ending with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and shot 2-3 on his three-point arc.

Overall Thoughts

It was an ugly win but a win nonetheless. The Thunder are a youthful squad that still is far from competing, but they have a fun squad with talent nonetheless. It was clear the Sixers had a little bit of Harden hangover from yesterday’s events by allowing OKC to hang around, but in the end, the goal was accomplished.

It was very nice to see Shake Milton rejoin the team after his lengthy absence. Back injuries are never easy to come back from, and this was clearly one that bothered Milton for quite some time. The Sixers are in need of some additional ball handling in the second unit, and Shake will go a long way to filling this need. It wasn’t a great game from Shake tonight but him making his return is absolutely a positive.

The Sixers will have little time to rest as they are back in action tomorrow night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This will be a much tougher matchup as the Cavs currently sit in third place in the East with a record of 34-21. The Cavs are loaded with athleticism and length, which the Sixers often struggle with, so there will need to be a better effort tomorrow.