Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Embiid, Westbrook is a great rivalry

Dave Uram
January 20, 2019 - 9:57 am

The NBA needs to find a way to get more games between the 76ers and Thunder because two is simply not enough. Every time these teams play, it's a classic. Every time they play is also a Sixers loss though. 

Oklahoma City beat the Sixers for the 19th straight time 117-115 with Paul George drilling a game winning four-point play in the final seconds, finishing with a team high 31 points.

The 76ers nearly stole this one despite not playing well for a good portion of the game. Trailing by three with 14 seconds left, Russell Westbrook fouled Joel Embiid attempting a three. Westbrook fouled out and Embiid made all three foul shots after waving goodbye to the former MVP. 

On the ensuing inbound, Ben Simmons and Wilson Chandler double-teamed Dennis Schroder, who threw an ill-advised cross court pass that was picked off by Jimmy Butler, who drove to the basket for a 115-113 lead. Butler then fouled George on his game winning three attempt after getting caught in a screen. 

Simmons drove the ball up the right side of the floor after the four-point play, gave it to Butler who wasn’t close on trying to shoot over two defenders at the buzzer.

No heroics this time. 

Here are my observations.

Butler came up small most of the game

Butler finished with 18 points thanks to making key buckets down the stretch, but was a dismal five-of-18 shooting from the floor. He also made the crucial mistake getting screened on George’s game winner. 

Clearly the Sixers wanted Butler fighting through the screen, but knowing how clutch of a three-point shooter George is, I would've had Embiid and Butler switch. Worst case scenario is Steven Adams gets a decent look inside to tie the game, and you go to overtime. 

This wasn’t Butler’s best game as a Sixer. He nearly made that an after thought, but the key word is nearly.

Embiid can and should play through his back injury

Embiid was once again a game time decision with a back issue, but he played and scored 31 points on 11-of-19 from the floor. The Sixers don't beat the Pacers Thursday or keep it close with the Thunder Saturday if Embiid sits. 

For all those who were appalled by Embiid playing against Indiana, he’s fine and can tough out discomfort. Let the guy play. He’s one of the best players on the floor even when he’s not 100 percent.

Simmons was solid, but not good enough

Ben Simmons limitations are well documented. He would be an All-NBA player if he shot and made jumpers in a game, most notably in the situation where they were down two after George's four-point play. 

"I thought we were trying to create an environment where Ben could attack as best he could, keep the court spread, cut the driving line off and run a dribble hand off to Jimmy," Brett Brown told the media after the game. "We were out of timeouts at that stage. Really at that point, you're begging, like you know, five seconds left, no timeouts, you're trying to get whatever you can. I'm backing Ben Simmons on the fly. I wish we got it out of bounds quicker to create more of an environment that was moving and a little bit more disorganized, but there's a lot of stuff that went on before that." 

If Simmons has a jumper as part of his game, he could’ve easily taken the final shot at the end instead of Butler shooting over two hands. Simmons could've also drove the hole and maybe drew a foul. Instead, he did an ineffective dribble hand-off. You could blame Brown bad coaching or Simmons for poor execution. Either way, the Sixers need a better look than that at the end. 

Simmons also had six turnovers and was four-of-eight from the foul line.

Embiid vs. Westbrook is a great rivalry 

I know East teams only play West teams twice in the regular season. But, as mentioned earlier, an exception must be made for Sixers-Thunder. 

Embiid versus Westbrook is too intriguing, especially when Embiid basically falls on Westbrook as he’s trying to block the Thunder superstar’s driving layup in the fourth quarter.

It was clearly not intentional by Embiid, but Westbrook’s heated reaction was top notch drama.
​"I was going for the block and I think he lost the ball, but I was already in the air and I don't know why he was mad," Embiid told the media after the game according to Ben Mallis of The Pick and Roll. "I have no idea, but he's always in his feelings, so I have no idea." 

"I don't think he just landed on me," Westbrook said according to ESPN's Royce Young​. "You know what I'm saying? But it's ok."

When asked if he and Embiid are cool, Westbrook emphatically said, "(Expletive) no!" 

Clear your schedule for when these teams square off. It’s always a gem. Unfortunately for Sixers fans though, it usually ends in heartbreak, which was the case Saturday in South Philadelphia.
Turnovers again an issue

The Sixers committed 19 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points. That’s simply inexcusable. Turnovers bit the Sixers once again.

Bench problems 

The Sixers bench was outscored by the Thunder’s 28-20, but 21 of Oklahoma City’s came from Shroder. Depth remains an issue for the Sixers.