The Sixers were thrilled to have Joel Embiid back Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
Embiid, who'd missed the team's loss Wednesday to the Timberwolves with left hip soreness, had a predictably giant impact against the Thunder.
In a 127-123 victory, he posted 35 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks.
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Tyrese Maxey scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Oklahoma City's leading scorers were Chet Holmgren (33 points) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31 points).
The Sixers snapped the Thunder's six-game winning streak and moved to 11-5. OKC now has an identical record.
The Sixers were down two wings in Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib) and Danuel House Jr. (left quad contusion). Jaden Springer was out with an illness.
OKC’s Jalen Williams was sidelined by a left hip injury.
The Sixers will return to Philadelphia and play the Lakers on Monday night. Here are observations on their win over the Thunder:
No smooth start for Holmgren
Embiid didn’t need any time to settle in.
Against early-season Rookie of the Year contender Holmgren, Embiid looked intent on imposing his sizable strength advantage. Embiid was right to think he could be physically overwhelming vs. Holmgren, who's listed at one inch taller and 85 pounds lighter than Embiid.
Embiid scored a layup on the game’s opening play. Holmgren took three-pointers on OKC’s first two possessions and drained the second. The next time down, he drove to the rim and Embiid swatted away his layup.
After another missed Holmgren jumper, Embiid sprinted up the court, sealed deep in the paint and finished inside on the 21-year-old big man. The Sixers built an 11-point edge in under four minutes and Embiid set a formidable tone.
Nicolas Batum was also stellar in his first stint. He blocked an Isaiah Joe jumper, dished out three early assists, and made a corner three and second-chance layup. While Embiid sometimes seems capable of doing it all, those types of contributions ensure the Sixers capitalize on his especially dominant stretches.
All-around Embiid impact
OKC tried to trouble Embiid with a variety of aggressive defensive looks.
Those coverages included fronting Embiid’s post-ups, double teaming on his drives, and often having Jaylin Williams or Kenrich Williams fight to deny catches and force Embiid to toil.
That duo loves to draw charges, too. Kenrich Williams successfully took one on Embiid late in the second quarter and Jaylin Williams did the same early in the third. Embiid shot 19 for 21 at the foul line, but those offensive foul calls were rare pleasant whistles for the Thunder.
Jaylin Williams, who was 4 for 18 from three-point range going into the game, surprisingly knocked two down in the first quarter. OKC scored 22 of the first half’s 29 bench points and only committed two turnovers before intermission.
Thanks largely to Embiid's excellent all-around work, the Sixers still led by four points at the break.
During a great Embiid second-quarter sequence, he blocked Jaylin Williams, started a Sixers fast break, and kicked the ball out to Maxey. Embiid then back-tapped Maxey's miss to De’Anthony Melton in volleyball-esque fashion, and Melton’s jumper fell.
That was the first of four assists Embiid notched between the 5:22 and 3:23 mark of the second period. Embiid’s decision-making wasn’t immaculate, but he made impressive, instinctive feeds in transition, as a driver and out of double teams. It's still sensible for opponents to focus on limiting Embiid's chances to score comfortably, but he had many fantastic non-scoring moments for the Sixers on Saturday.
Late-game hiccups not disastrous
Jaylin Williams started the third quarter in place of rookie guard Cason Wallace and the Thunder began the second half well.
Holmgren found his groove, scoring a dozen points early in the third. He blocked a Melton layup, joined OKC's fast break and threw down a crowd-pleasing slam.
Behind their stars, the Sixers bounced back nicely. The Maxey-Embiid pair scored every point in a 9-0 run that put the Sixers up 80-75.
Crucially, the Sixers' role players then closed the third quarter strongly. Batum and Tobias Harris hit threes, the Sixers strung together a few stops, and their lead swelled to 13.
Maxey ran the show to begin the fourth quarter, canning two pull-up jumpers and a crafty left-handed layup. Robert Covington and Paul Reed made timely catch-and-shoot jumpers, too.
Even with Embiid back in, the Sixers couldn't manage a routine finish. The team committed far too many unnecessary fouls down the stretch, stopping the clock regularly and enabling OKC to extend the game.
While some of the fouls were excusable — Gilgeous-Alexander is very slippery as a downhill driver, for instance — other mistakes were rather basic. Embiid fouled Dāvis Bertāns on a three-point attempt with 32.5 seconds left. Facing pressure in the backcourt, Harris got called for an offensive foul with 12.2 seconds remaining.
Fittingly, Embiid made sure it all turned out fine. He went 6 for 6 on his free throws over the final 9.8 seconds and the Sixers held off the relentless Thunder.