Monday from Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City’s unmarred five-game run vanished and a deflated Thunder iteration soberly escaped toward an awaiting locker room.
A giant all season, Westbrook ended with just 15 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
The triple-double averaging guard remained coy postgame, stating:
"It was just one of those nights. Shots didn't fall. ... They made shots, as well. A few mishaps defensively, but we'll be all right."
Though, obviously, there was more to this loss. Something ill-defined and pervasive hung about the team as they acknowledged defeat for a fourth time this season vs. Golden State — though the first minus former cornerstone Kevin Durant.
As the dust settles from that encounter, and OKC’s marathon season unfolds, this evening Oklahoma City seeks to rise anew opposite the hard-luck, yet bold Philadelphia 76ers.
For Brett Brown’s 26-win crew, injuries have closed the door on a surprise playoff run. However, through 70 games, this young franchise has fostered an undeniable winning spirit.
Bereft of lauded talents, Joel Embiid (Knee), and Ben Simmons (Foot), less-heralded players such as Richaun Holmes, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric have emerged to lead Philadelphia upon a respectable 3-2 path over its past five outings.
And though the Sixers dropped a 17-point lead Monday vs. Orlando, just one night before this gritty collective defeated surging Boston 105-99.
As for Saric (12.6 ppg, 6.3 reb, 2.2 apg): the 6’10 rookie stands in firm contention for Rookie of The Year honors, while championing his club’s unrelenting attitude. After amassing 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists during Philadelphia’s signature win, Saric’s words epitomized the rebirth of basketball within the city of brotherly love:
"Finally, we beat them. I'm so happy because I want to beat them so, so, so bad because we are like three games until now, we were so close, we give all the games a hundred percent and we lost and today finally we won. We deserved it and better team won today."
As a month remains before post-season play begins, expect tonight’s encounter to be a telltale measure of Oklahoma City’s will to redefine its odds.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (40-30 #6 west) vs. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (26-44 #13 east)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- TV: FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Re-affirm confidence: Naturally, Monday’s loss would drain any team’s will to an extent. However, for OKC, sound principles both as men and basketball players can be re-established tonight vs. Brown’s troops.
- Own the paint: Philadelphia (Holmes, Saric, Covington, Okafor) boasts a young, athletic group up front. Steven Adams, Taj Gibson, and Enes Kanter must use their veteran guile, and strength, to suppress Philly’s young guns.
- Play the passing lanes: Over their past five games, Philadelphia (28.6 apg) ranks 2nd league-wide in assists, but first (17.4 tov) in turnovers.
- Establish the inside-out game: Known primarily for Westbrook drives, mid-range jumpers, and post-play, OKC ranks fourth in the NBA (39.3) in 3PT% over its past five outings (4-1).
- Guard play: Throughout Oklahoma City’s recent five-game winning streak, both Victor Oladipo (19 ppg, 50/59/75 split) and Westbrook (26 ppg, 14 apg, 10 rpg, four triple-doubles) reigned supreme.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Opposite a youthful and determined opponent, tonight’s contest will pose the perfect test for Oklahoma City’s resolve.
With the implications of Monday’s loss stated, look for both Russell Westbrook and his Thunder to battle for respectability from Chesapeake Energy before setting off on a three-game road trip.
After playing three games in four nights (2-1 record, narrow OT road loss to ORL) Philadelphia begins a four-game road trip tonight vs. OKC.
With Jahilil Okafor potentially sidelined (Knee), Richaun Holmes (14.6 ppg, 8.2 reb, 1.6 blk, 1.6 stl past 5 games) and Dario Saric should be firmly affixed to Coach Billy Donovan’s game-plan radar.
Further, Philadelphia’s DefRtg (93.2) has been the league’s second-highest since March 12.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Philadelphia 76ers list Joel Embiid (Knee), Ben Simmons (Foot), and Tiago Splitter (Calf) as out. Meanwhile, Jahlil Okafor (Knee) and Gerald Henderson (Rest) are listed as day-to-day.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: T.J. McConnell/Sergio Rodriguez
- Shooting Guard: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot/Gerald Henderson
- Small Forward: Robert Covington
- Power Forward: Dario Saric
- Center: Richaun Holmes/Jahlil Okafor
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -11
Due to recent success, Oklahoma City enters tonight’s affair as a prohibitive favorite. The Thunder sports a 26-10 home record, as live-dog Philly enters with a 9-25 road ledger.
Tonight’s key matchup, as stated, pits OKC’s experienced, and powerful, front-line against Philadelphia’s upstart and springy interior group. The Thunder should enjoy a comfortable back-court talent margin.
When these teams met in Oct 26’s season-opener, the Sixers battled hard during a 103-97 loss. Russell Westbrook finished the contest with 32 pts, 12 rebs, and 9 assts. Conversely, now-injured Joel Embiid offered 20 points and seven rebounds in his long-awaited NBA debut.
Versatile reserve Jerami Grant was traded from Philadelphia to OKC for well-traveled forward Ersan Ilyasova six days later.