It was actually warmer today in Philadelphia than in Oklahoma City, but the 76ers, so woeful for so long, are this year as good a team as any, and the Thunder never could pull away from them; and OKC’s nine-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter had completely evaporated halfway through. At the 1:46 point, Joel Embiid snowplowed Russell Westbrook into a stanchion; Westbrook overcame his worst impulses and dropped in two free throws to put the Thunder up four. The Sixers, undaunted, came back with a trey; after what appeared to be a busted OKC possession, Terrance Ferguson, responded with three points of his own. Then Jimmy Butler went for the rim and collected an and-one. Two more foul shots from Paul George brought the score to 113-110 Thunder with 21 seconds left. Six seconds later, Westbrook fouled out, and Embiid, the foulee, was given three free throws, all of which he made. Butler intercepted the inbound, and once again drove to the rim for a layup: Sixers up by two with 6.9 left. Within two seconds, George had sprung for a trey and drawn a foul. PG-13 hadn’t missed a free throw all day, and he didn’t miss this one. A Hail Mary buzzer-beater went unanswered, and the final was Oklahoma City 117, Philadelphia 115, the first time a Western team has won in the Wells Fargo (!) all season.
The Sixers’ sharpshooters were as sharp as usual: Embiid 31, J. J. Redick 22, Butler 18, and Ben Simmons approaching triple-double levels at 20-15-9. Philly outrebounded OKC 47-45, and out-assisted (is that a word?) them 28-20. But the Sixer reserves contributed only 20 points to the cause, one fewer than Dennis Schröder. Then again, the OKC bench, other than Schröder, hit only seven. For the Thunder, PG-13 knocked down 31, Westbrook 21 (and 10 boards), and Steven Adams 16. And it’s still weird having a shooting guard who, you know, actually can shoot; T-Ferg went 4-8, 3-6 from the three-point circle.
Next outing is Monday against the Knicks in New York for an MLK Day matinee. The Knicks aren’t having a great year, but they can burn you in a hurry if you let them.