Sixers win thriller over Thunder in Joel Embiid’s return

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, tries to get past Oklahoma City Thunder’s Jaylin Williams during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers returned to their home court Tuesday night for a quick pitstop against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It would be no ordinary matchup, though, as it would mark the return of Sixers star Joel Embiid, who would grace the court for the first time since Jan 30. Unfortunately, Tyrese Maxey was unable to join for the occasion due to a hip injury.

Meanwhile, the injury bug would bother the Thunder as they entered the fame down two of their best players, Jalen Williams and MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Still, this Thunder team is deep, and plenty of players have contributed to the squad’s climb to the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Thunder play together, organized, and even-keeled, no matter who is in or out. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault has done an incredible job with the team this season. It’s no surprise his name is oft-mentioned in the Coach of the Year conversation.

Turnovers nearly seal the Sixers’ fate

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after a foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia, while admittedly reintroducing their focal point on both sides of the ball, was less organized throughout the night. Racking up 18 turnovers to Oklahoma’s 14, the Sixers played far too loosely against a deep Thunder squad.

As is typically the case, the team who turned the ball over the most had the most points off turnovers scored against them. This was the true difference-maker in the game as the Thunder made the most of the extra opportunities, scoring 23 points to the Sixers’ nine. What makes matters worse is that eight of Philadelphia’s turnovers were unforced.

While a fair bit of sloppy play is to be expected when reintroducing a crucial player who’s missed two straight months, it cannot be overstated that the turnover game was nearly the difference in this one. In the end, the Sixers’ comeback would be successful, with a final score of 109-105.

Joel Embiid made his long-awaited return

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid dribbles down the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In what was undoubtedly the most anticipated return the NBA will see this season, Joel Embiid played his first game for the Philadelphia 76ers since Jan 30, when the team faced the Golden State Warriors. While his first few minutes were a bit uneven, highlighted by an interesting Tony Brothers call, Embiid began to round into shape as the game progressed.

Embiid clearly lacked his signature brand of punishing presence, but it would be irresponsible if he played any other way coming off the injury. Unfortunately, turnovers were the greatest enemy of Embiid in this one, racking up a game-high six on the night. It will take time for Embiid to reacclimate himself to a good-hard double-team, but for now, a 24-point, six-rebounds, seven-assist performance is certainly encouraging. Especially as he helped will the team on their late rally to victory.

Cam Payne continues to be ready

Philadelphia 76ers guard Cameron Payne (22) shoots as Toronto Raptors forward Kelly Olynyk (41) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

With the news that Tyrese Maxey would miss tonight’s game as he continues to nurse a hip injury, Cam Payne was once again thrust into a starting role, something he has taken well to in his spot starts.

Coming into tonight’s game, Payne averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 42.1% from deep on over seven three-point attempts per game as a start for Philadelphia this season.

Payne got started early tonight, accumulating six points, four rebounds, and three assists in the first quarter. By the end of the night, Payne finished with a double-double of ten points and ten rebounds to go along with five assists.

Missing Tyrese Maxey is never a positive but what Cam Payne has shown when given the opportunity certainly is. He’s quickly becoming a player to consider re-signing this offseason.

Up next for the Sixers

Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, right, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Sixers will hit South Beach Thursday night for a pivotal matchup against the eighth-seed Miami Heat. This game has tremendous tiebreaker consequences and should be considered by all accounts a must-watch.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. and you can catch the game at NBC Sports Philadelphia or NBA League Pass.