3 Observations After Sixers Take Care of Business Against Thunder

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers moved to 33-22 on the season with a 100-87 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid led the way for the Sixers, finishing with 25 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and five blocks. Tyrese Maxey, who was questionable heading into tonight with right hamstring tightness, scored 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field while also grabbing five rebounds. Tobias Harris added in 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

The only two inactive players for the Sixers were their newest acquisitions, 10-time All-Star James Harden and Paul Millsap. It was reported earlier Friday afternoon the two players were not expected to play until next week at the earliest due to having to go through their post-trade physicals.

The Thunder were without their standout player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right ankle sprain), but they put up a good fight in the first half. The Sixers, expectedly, pulled away in the second half before withstanding a late run from the Thunder and proceeding to close it out in the final two minutes of action.

The Sixers finish out a back-to-back with a home matchup on Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here are three observations from the win:

Embiid dominates despite off night shooting

Embiid, after knocking down a three from the top of the key for his first points of the night, continued to punish the opposing team around the basket. He made a specific effort to hit the glass hard and it showed up early on. There was a possession with 8:47 remaining in the first quarter where he grabbed multiple offensive rebounds before making a tip-in shot. He came down with an offensive board on another first-quarter possession despite being surrounded by about four Thunder players.

He also did a good job getting to the free-throw line early and often. He went to the line eight times in the opening quarter, playing a huge role in getting the Thunder into foul trouble. The Thunder committed seven fouls in the opening frame, including two from big man Derrick Favors.

While his shot was not falling much to open up the game, Embiid more than made up for it through drawing fouls and hitting the glass hard. He ended the first quarter with a double-double, 11 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 2-of-7 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.

He struggled to get his shot going all night, shooting just 8-of-25 from the field and 1-of-7 from three-point range. However, his rebounding and defense were critical to helping the Sixers come away with the victory.

Paul Reed received the first crack at the backup center minutes now that Andre Drummond was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. He checked in with two minutes to play in the first quarter and played with his usual high energy and was disruptive on the defensive end of the floor. He still has some things to clean up, like when he missed a fancy windmill reverse dunk on a fast break midway through the second quarter and then proceeded to commit a foul afterwards.

Overall, Reed put together a good performance against the Thunder. He scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and was active on the defensive end, finishing with two steals and two blocks in 13 minutes of action off the bench.

Shake Milton's return to the court

It was great to see Milton return to the court after missing the previous 18 games with a back contusion. He received loud cheers upon his entrance into the game midway through the first quarter.

He understandably showed some rust in his first stretch of action, making just one of his first five shots. His aggressiveness coming out of the gate was a major positive despite his shot not falling. He ended the game shooting 1-of-9 from the field, which is to be expected in his first game back from a long absence.

Getting Milton back into the lineup allows head coach Doc Rivers to expand the rotations more. He had lineups with Tyrese Maxey and Milton as the primary ball handlers surrounded by the rest of the bench unit, a vast improvement from having to rely on Furkan Korkmaz to play as the point guard in all-bench lineups.

The Sixers as a team struggled offensively for much of the first half, shooting just 33.3 percent from the field. Maxey's performance was one of the bright spots of the first half. He scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field, including two fast-break baskets in the final minute of the half. The team took a 46-41 lead into halftime thanks to this fast-break layup in the final seconds of the half.

Sixers pull away in second half

The Sixers carried momentum into halftime coming off an 8-0 run to end the first half. They continued their good play from the end of the first half, coming out of halftime on fire. The team immediately expanded their lead with a beautiful sequence of basketball sparked by back-to-back steals by Matisse Thybulle.

Thybulle put together another excellent defensive game with three steals. He also scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Thybulle proved why it was important for president of basketball operations for Daryl Morey to hold onto him in trade talks.

The Sixers made eight of their first nine shots to open up the third quarter and effectively opened up their lead, pulling away from a young Thunder team that had managed to keep the game close in the first half. They outscored the Thunder 31-20 in the third quarter to stretch their lead to 77-61 going into the final quarter of action.

The Thunder made the game close again, cutting the lead down to six by going on a 16-3 run midway through the fourth quarter. However, a Harris three-pointer and a Maxey layup built Philadelphia's lead back up to 11 points with 1:58 to play. The two teams traded a pair of baskets and the Sixers were able to close the game out.

The Sixers were playing in the first half of a back-to-back and it would have been good if the team could have finished the Thunder off earlier in the fourth quarter. However, closing out games proved to be something the team will have to improve on throughout the remainder of the season.

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