Sixers summer league

3 observations after Sixers fall short of massive comeback, finish Salt Lake summer league  

The Sixers wrapped up their time in Utah with a loss to OKC.

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The Sixers could not pull off an improbable comeback to cap their time in Utah this summer. 

Although they made the Thunder sweat late, the Sixers lost by a 100-91 score Thursday night. They went 1-2 in Salt Lake City.

The Sixers will play their opening game in Las Vegas on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET against the Knicks. 

Jaden Springer had 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting, five rebounds and two assists.

After Nick Nurse handled the team's first two summer games, Rico Hines served as the Sixers’ head coach. The new Sixers assistant and much-lauded figure in the player development world will also lead the squad in Vegas.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ loss Thursday: 

Petrusev not firing from deep yet 

The Sixers will leave Utah still searching for their first quick start of the summer. 

They missed 8 of their first 10 field goals Thursday and fell into an 11-4 hole. Azuolas Tubelis opened at power forward, Filip Petrusev at center. Neither player impressed early; Petrusev air balled a jumper and Tubelis got blocked inside. 

Petrusev noted after the Sixers’ summer league practice Saturday that he mainly played at the four last season for KK Crvena zvezda in Serbia. While Petrusev has rebounded decently and appeared reasonably comfortable with the ball in his hands — executing dribble handoffs, reading the action from the top of the key, etc. — he’s yet to truly shine the way players like Terquavion Smith, Ricky Council IV, and Springer have. 

Perhaps he’ll put up more three-pointers in Las Vegas. After shooting 43.0 percent from long range (on 1.6 attempts per game) last season across all competitions, Petrusev is 0 for 1 so far over the Sixers’ three summer games. 

The Gonzaga product posted eight points on 3-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds. Tubelis had two points and two boards.  

Familiar face vs. Springer  

Former Sixer Zhaire Smith scored five early points. The 16th pick in the 2018 NBA draft converted a driving layup and a transition three that expanded OKC’s lead to 24-9. 

Smith later challenged Springer on a fast break, jumping into his body and drawing a foul. He also sprinted ahead of the pack for a dunk in the second quarter and ultimately tallied 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting. Now 24 years old, perhaps Smith can eventually make his way back to the NBA. His last appearance in the league was a garbage-time stint with the Sixers on Feb. 7, 2020, the night Furkan Korkmaz scored a career-high 34 points vs. the Grizzlies. 

Watching Smith and Springer match up was fascinating (by summer league standards). The two have similar builds — Springer is listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Smith at 6-3, 205 — and both entered the professional game as teenagers with obvious defensive talents and plenty of offensive tools they needed to develop. This season figures to be a telling one for Springer, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in late September. 

Springer again didn’t sparkle as a jump shooter (0 for 1 from three-point range) or decision-maker (seven turnovers), but he continued to do very well at the foul line. He made 21 of 23 free throws in Utah.

Spirited second-half push 

With 5:01 to go in the second quarter, an Ousmane Dieng layup grew OKC’s advantage to 52-21. The Sixers were sloppy, disjointed, and everything else that large of a deficit suggests. 

They admirably chipped away, though. Terquavion Smith (15 points on 5-for-11 shooting) hit a pair of three-pointers in the third quarter and the Sixers’ collective defensive focus and effort improved. 

The Sixers had the Thunder legitimately rattled by the middle of the fourth quarter, pressuring OKC into mistakes and capitalizing on many of those miscues. The team's bench also brought a noticeable energy boost, rising and applauding several strong defensive moments. Two Council free throws cut the Thunder’s edge to 93-88, but the Sixers couldn’t get any closer. 

On Saturday, they'll aim to finally play with an early lead.

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