So much has been written of late about the 76ers’ alleged tanking that I have to believe that someone in Philadelphia took enough umbrage to do something about it, which is one way to explain the Sixers’ 32-17 lead with five minutes left in the first quarter, 15 of those points coming from guard Isaiah Canaan, who hit five treys in six tries. Weirder still, the Thunder had a 37-34 lead when that quarter ended, the Man in the Clear Mask — that would be Russell Westbrook, recovering from surgery to his jaw — having knocked out 16 points in that quarter. Philly was not impressed; they were up 59-56 at the half and opened the third with a 13-4 run. The Thunder persevered, cutting a 16-point Sixer lead to six by the end of the quarter, tying it two minutes later, and finally taking the lead, 93-90, on a D. J. Augustin trey. It was about this point that the Philly scoring machine ground to a halt: through eight minutes of the fourth they’d hit exactly one bucket, and OKC was up eight. Still the Sixers would not go away: just inside the 1:00 mark, Hollis Thompson, who hadn’t scored all night, swished a trey to pull within three, and then Jason Richardson, who’d scored plenty, knocked down another one to tie it at 110-all. With 4.3 seconds left, Philadelphia got one more shot, Dion Waiters blocked a Nerlens Noel layup, and — “Who’d have foreseen this?” asked radio guy Matt Pinto.
And 1:56 into the overtime period, the Masked Man did it again: notched a triple-double, his fourth in succession and sixth for the season, delivering his tenth dime to Augustin. Serge Ibaka, who’d logged more blocks than points for the evening (four swats, two points), set up Westbrook’s 40th and 41st points; Ibaka fouled out, and Westbrook got two more. The Sixers came back: three free throws by Richardson and a Jerami Grant trey, to make it 117-116. Inevitably, this was followed by a Westbrook bucket and a free throw, giving him 46. Richardson swished two more foul shots to make it a two-point game; Grant was called for a blocking foul, and Westbrook went back to the stripe, hitting one of two. Richardson’s last trey ended up out of bounds, and yet again, Westbrook went back to the stripe, hitting both of them. The last Sixers shot would not fall, and, as one of the records guys noted, “Russell Westbrook joins Vince Carter as the only players with 45 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists in a game over the last 30 seasons.” In fact, he had 49 points, 16 boards and ten dimes, new career highs in points and rebounds.
Still, despite the 123-118 win, there’s a Telltale Statistic waiting in the weeds: all five Thunder starters were minus for the night (even Westbrook, -12), all five reserves were plus. The bench, in fact, scored more than the starters: 62-61. Waiters, in fact, had a double-double: 20 points, 10 rebounds. Augustin finished with 17, and Anthony Morrow (+34!) checked in with 11.
And dammit, these Sixers are no slouches no matter what you read. Richardson finished with 29, Canaan logged a new career high with 31, and Philly made 15 of 35 treys. (On two-pointers, they were 19-61. Go figure.) What’s more, they managed to earn 44 free throws, hitting 35 of them, and held a 58-54 rebounding advantage. This is called hard work.
After all that, it’s off to the plane for tomorrow night at Chicago. Is anyone tired? Let’s hope not.
Addendum: Oh, and there’s this: