To the dismay of the residents of both the City of Brotherly Love and Oklahoma City, the Thunder marched into the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night and defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 133-114, to improve to 19-23 on the season.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. The Sixers, who employ former scoring champs Joel Embiid and James Harden, were supposed to have defended their home arena and taken advantage of the second youngest team in NBA history; especially given that the Thunder were relying on the undersized, rookie center from Arkansas, Jaylin Williams.
The convincing victory over Philadelphia puts the Thunder just 1.0 game behind the Jazz and Timberwolves – tied for the ninth seed – and 1.5 games behind the Suns and Warriors who are tied for the seventh seed.
It was clear that the Thunder came to play in the first quarter after knocking down half of their eight 3-pointers and hitting 8-of-13 shots inside the paint en route to scoring 35 points. Surprisingly, that rookie center from Arkansas accounted for seven of those points, and even scored the Thunder’s first basket after confidently drilling a wide open 3-pointer from above the break.
The opening frame proved to be contagious for the Thunder as the bench stepped up to spark a 19-6 run in the first half of the second quarter, building a 13-point lead. From there, it was all downhill for the Sixers, as they would succumb to the Thunder’s incredible offensive efficiency and awesome bench production.
In fact, last night’s game marked just the second time this season where a team has shot over 50% from the field, over 40% from downtown, and over 90% from the line, on 30 attempts or more. The Thunder hit 31 of their 33 attempts from the charity stripe versus the Sixers.
Oklahoma City’s reserves also chipped in a hefty 47 points, accounting for eight of the team’s 14 made 3-pointers, and even hit 9-of-10 of their free throws. They also combined for 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks while committing just three turnovers.
Here are your top performers.
What is there to say? Gilgeous-Alexander once again proved that he belongs in the spotlight. He also strengthened his campaign for the Most Improved Player Award after dropping 37 points on just 16 shots to lead his squad over the team with the seventh-best record in the NBA.
The elusive guard had no problem getting downhill and slicing up the Sixers’ defense and drawing contact, showing off his entire bag via backdoor cuts, nifty dribble moves, and fall-away jumpers. As a result, he did his best Jimmy Butler impression, without the theatre, going 16-for-16 from the foul line. Gilgeous-Alexander also led the team with two blocks, found a steal, grabbed eight boards, and dished out six assists.
And he turned the ball over just once. Talk about efficiency.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s running mate continued his stretch of improved play in last night’s game. The sophomore guard dropped 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting and contributed a 3-pointer. Giddey also went a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe — a big improvement on his career average of 1.5 free throws per game.
His passing talent also showed up once again as he picked apart the Sixers’ defense, finding opportunities to slip the ball off to a cutter or kick it out to the perimeter. That led to eight assists to just three turnovers.
After struggling with efficiency for much of the season, everything seemed to go right for the 6-foot-5 ankle-breaker. After Gilgeous-Alexander went to the bench, Mann’s scoring punch was key and would break the game open in the second quarter, as he accounted for nine of the Thunder’s points during their 19-6 run early in the second frame.
It seemed as if Philadelphia’s guards were no match for herky jerky guard as he weaved in and out of the defense, leaving defenders in the dust and knocking down five of his nine shots, including two 3-pointers. Mann’s 14 points led the Thunder’s bench in scoring.