Early on, an aggrieved 76ers fan shot Russell Westbrook the bird. (Actually, a pair of birds; it was a two-hand job.) The chap was escorted off the premises, and the consequences were contemplated:
Nobody does angry quite as well as Russell Westbrook, but most of that ire was dissipated in just trying to stay even with the (usually) lightly regarded Sixers, who earnestly lost 72 games last year. They will not do that this year: Philadelphia has apparently learned some of that grindhouse stuff from the old Memphis Grizzlies playbook, and they maintained a small lead through much of the game. It was tied at 51 at the half; with 35 seconds left, it was tied at 97, at which point Westbrook swished a pair of free throws to put the Thunder up by two. Just outside the 10-second mark, Andre Roberson swatted away a Sixer floater, the ball changed hands several times, and finally Enes Kanter stuffed it into the cylinder for a 101-97 lead. Joel Embiid (20 points) made a valiant effort to put the Sixers back into it, but he wound up putting a knee into Victor Oladipo. The ex-Magic man finished the job with two more free throws, and that was that: Oklahoma City 103, Philadelphia 97.
A lot of this, of course, was Westbrook, who came up one dime short of a triple-double: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists. In a suggestion of future lineups, Billy Donovan started Domantas Sabonis at power forward, subbing in Kanter every chance he got. (Kanter played 24 minutes, Sabonis just over 16.) Both Alex Abrines and Semaj Christon put in decent showings from the bench.
This is a more balanced Philly lineup than we’ve seen in a while, with rookie Embiid installed in the middle and veteran Gerald Henderson keeping a eye on the wing. Regrettably, there was no time tonight for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, rookie swingman with the greatest name since Luc Mbah a Moute; he drew a DNP-CD.
Home opener is Friday against the Suns. It’s a wholly different attack: Phoenix will kill you from the wing, while the Sixers do their best bothering in the middle. Too early in the season to make any meaningful predictions, though.