Instant Observations: 76ers Pull Off Comeback Victory Against Thunder in Embiid’s Return to Lineup

Instant Observations: 76ers Pull Off Comeback Victory Against Thunder in Embiid’s Return to Lineup Apr 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jaylin Williams (6) during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In Joel Embiid’s return to the lineup, the Philadelphia 76ers completed a tough comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, beating them 109-105 on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Embiid, sporting a giant brace on his left knee, made his return from a two-month absence due to a meniscus procedure. He finished with 24 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go along with six rebounds.

Tyrese Maxey missed his second consecutive game with left hip tightness. De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and Mo Bamba (illness) were also out of the lineup for the Sixers.

The Thunder were led in the loss by Chet Holmgren’s 22 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Luguentz Dort finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Oklahoma City was without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right quad contusion) and Jalen Williams (left ankle sprain) in this contest.

The Sixers’ next game is a crucial road matchup against the Miami Heat. Here are some instant observations from the win over the Thunder:


– Embiid predictably looked a bit rusty in his first game back from a lengthy two-month absence. He missed some jumpers short, committed a few turnovers and clearly looked like a player who had not been on the court for a significant amount of time. However, he began to get into a bit of a rhythm as the game wore on.

It did not take much time for Embiid to develop some chemistry with a pair of the Sixers’ mid-season acquisitions. Kyle Lowry smoothly operated the pick-and-roll with Embiid. They found success running that action on consecutive possessions late in the first quarter. On the first play, Lowry hit Embiid with a pocket pass on the short roll. The play resulted in an easy Embiid jumper from the elbow. The second play led to Embiid drawing a foul and knocking down a pair from the free-throw line.

The Sixers also had some success running the two-man game between Embiid and Buddy Hield. The action resulted in two open Hield jumpers in the first half. Between Embiid’s dominating presence on the floor and Hield’s gravity as an outside shooter, the two-man game should be tough for opposing defenses to slow down. Hield had a quiet night against the Thunder, but there were clear signs pointing to the two-man game with Embiid being a productive action.

On the other end of the floor, Embiid’s night was a mixed bag. The Thunder drove at him and had some early success, taking advantage of Embiid’s lack of burst defensively. However, he started to get his legs under him in the second half. He did a masterful job defending around the rim in the final minutes of the game, impacting a ton of Oklahoma City’s attempts around the basket. He capped off his night with a big time steal on Josh Giddey with 28 seconds remaining.

The biggest thing to take away from Embiid’s performance against the Thunder was his conditioning. He looked relatively good considering he was out of action for multiple months. The big fella moved around well for the most part, making all the plays required of him. He also played 29 minutes, more than expected in his first game back. His conditioning is only going to improve from here on out.

– Oubre was not able to get anything going for much of the night. However, that did not prevent him from continuing to shoot with confidence in the second half. He made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter to help the Sixers erase a seven-point deficit. Part of being a good shooter is to have a short memory and a lot of confidence. Oubre has both of those characteristics in spades. He would go on to make two more shots from beyond the arc in the final frame. In addition to his hot outside shooting, Oubre also made a key steal on Holmgren, taking the ball down the court and and finishing the play with a dunk.

Oubre was tremendous in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points to help power the Sixers to a much needed victory. His immense confidence was crucial to unlocking his strong play late against the Thunder. The Sixers also did a good job feeding him the ball once it became clear he was on a heater.

Paul Reed had a fantastic game off the bench. He nearly recorded a double-double, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds. The highlight of his night came in the fourth quarter when he dunked over Holmgren to the delight of everyone on the Sixers’ bench.


– One of the knocks on Tobias Harris‘ play this season has been his lack of aggressiveness. That quickly changed with Embiid back on the floor. He was one of the more productive players on the floor for the Sixers for much of this game. His 3-pointer was falling, and he was stepping into them with a ton of confidence. However, he completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. In the span of a single possession, Harris air balled an open mid-range jumper and then barely hit the rim on a 3-point attempt. Outside of his 3-point shooting, Harris failed to impact the game in any considerable way. He finished with 18 points (5-of-14 from the field, 5-of-8 from beyond the arc), six rebounds and four assists.

– While Embiid’s return performance was encouraging overall, the one area to pick on was his poor handling of double teams. The Thunder constantly threw double teams at him whenever he touched the ball. Embiid made significant strides in how he handles the extra defender in recent years, but he showed some definitive signs of rust in this area against the Thunder. Embiid turned the ball over six times, with the majority of them being due to mistakes against the numerous double teams Oklahoma City threw his way. He will likely cut out most of these turnovers as he gets more readjusted to being on the floor. However, it will be something to watch throughout the remainder of the regular season.

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