Thunder 84, 76ers 81: Observations from 76ers’ Third Summer League Game

By Alex Starkman, Sports Talk Philly writer

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 84-81 in overtime in the Sixers' third Summer League game on Monday afternoon at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.

Sophomore guard Zhaire Smith led all scorers with 18 points on 8-for-19 (42.1 percent) shooting, helping to overcome the 76ers' 26-point halftime deficit to force overtime.

Shake Milton, who has been struggling thus far in the Summer League, left the game early reportedly with an ankle injury. He had five points on 2-for-7 shooting in 12 minutes before exiting the game early. He had a plus/minus of -32, worst on the team. 

The 76ers were already playing shorthanded, with Marial Shayok (the team's leading scorer thus far in the Summer League) missing the game due to a sore left knee. He is day-to-day with the injury. 

General manager Elton Brand, head coach Brett Brown and small forward Tobias Harris were all in attendance on Monday afternoon.

The Sixers struggled offensively through the entire first half, shooting a combined 10-for-45, a minuscule 22.2 percent, and 1-for-14 (seven percent) from beyond the arc. 

Defensively, the first half was disastrous. Wide-open lanes led to far too many easy layups and dunks for the Thunder, and poor communication with the Sixers' pick-and-roll defense led to a bevy of uncontested three-point attempts. However, the Thunder weren't able to capitalize, shooting a disastrous 2-for-29 from outside. 

Down as many as 31 to the Thunder in the first twenty minutes, the Sixers looked dead.

However, they turned it around in the second half. The Sixers mixed up their defensive schemes, going mostly with a zone, which yielded a combined 32 points in the final 20 minutes and overtime for Oklahoma City. 

The Thunder had trouble finishing at the basket due to the swarming defense, led by Christ Koumadje's four blocks. The Thunder also struggled to control the ball and make crisp passes, resulting in many of the 10 steals the Sixers forced. Rookie Matisse Thybulle had two steals and three blocks as he continued to showcase his defensive abilities during the Summer League. 

Once Milton was removed with under three minutes left in the second quarter, Haywood Highsmith and Smith combined to quarterback the Sixers’ offense in the second half. Smith’s offensive and defensive imprint fueled the comeback, with one athletic finish at the rim after another. 

The 76ers were able to make 6-of-18 three-pointers in the second half and overtime, which, in addition to their swarming defense, fueled the comeback. 

Thybulle became more aggressive in the second half, finishing with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including four made free throws that came in critical situations in the second half. 

The Sixers’ defensive instincts were crucial in forcing 19 Thunder turnovers, which helped create many of the easy transition baskets that they used to get back in the game in the second half. 

PJ Dozier hit a three that cut the lead to just three with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia eventually tied the game in the game's final minutes, leading to overtime.

Overtime did not go as favorably as the latter parts of the fourth quarter, as the Thunder were able to take the lead on the first two possessions and never gave it back up. The 76ers failed to score a single point in the two-minute overtime period. 

This Sixers Summer League squad showed just how gritty and feisty they really are. Cutting into a 26-point lead in just 20 minutes is something to be commended, and had more shots fallen in the first half, maybe we are discussing a Sixers victory.