Thunder falters at both ends as 76ers end OKC’s winning streak

Thunder falters at both ends as 76ers end OKC’s winning streak

The offense flailed. The defense fouled. And big nights from Chet Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander against the 76ers weren’t enough.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Nov 25, 2023, 11:15pm CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Nov 25, 2023, 11:15pm CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder needed Joel Embiid to miss a free throw. 

Maybe one would have been enough. Maybe two. 

The 76ers center didn’t oblige, making all six of the foul shots he took in the final 10 seconds of Philadelphia’s 127-123 win Saturday at Paycom Center. 

That was the paper-thin margin for error the Thunder had given itself. On a night when coach Mark Daigneault admitted his team “didn’t have our best punch,” OKC scrapped at the end but needed some help to win. 

It was an odd game and not only in the Thunder losing — it hadn’t since Nov. 10, riding a six-game winning streak into Saturday. 

Odd because the game wasn’t as competitive as the four-point margin indicates, nor as thrill-a-minute as the combined 250 points might suggest. 

Odd because Chet Holmgren scored 33 points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 31 and yet the Thunder offense never really felt on track. 

And odd because the early minutes of Daigneault’s pregame news conference centered not on player development or the challenges of defending Embiid but on the playing status of Josh Giddey, the point guard at the center of controversy in recent days. 

Giddey played, which was in question as the NBA began looking into a social-media post that alleged he had an improper relationship with a minor. 

He started and got what sounded like his standard ovation during the introduction of lineups. He finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 26 minutes. 

Beyond all that, the Thunder seemed… off. 

The game “wasn’t feeling right,” Daigneault said. 

“So when that happens, I try to turn over every rock to try to turn the game, and our execution of that was just OK,” Daigneault said. 

In his effort to find something, Daigneault gave eight minutes to second-year forward Ousmane Dieng, who had spent some time in the G League and hadn’t played for the Thunder since Nov. 12. Daigneault tried to get a perimeter-shooting spark from Davis Bertans. 

Daigneault used rookie guard Cason Wallace (14 minutes) less than usual and big man Jaylin Willams (26 minutes) more. 

No matter the lineup, nothing seemed to click. 

Despite big nights from its big two — the Thunder outscored Philly by a point in Gilgeous-Alexander’s 36 minutes and by four in Holmgren’s 32 — OKC shot 29.6% in a third quarter during which it was outscored by 14 points in the final 7:18. 

Holmgren scored 12 points in a flurry to open the third quarter, but he played almost seven minutes in the fourth quarter before he took his first shot of the period. 

“A lot of his shots kind of come out of the flow, and we usually do a pretty good job of finding him,” Daigneault said. “And I thought we did a decent job of that tonight. I thought he was pretty involved, but our offense left something to be desired all the way around. When the ball moves and we get great shots, you don’t feel the need to push an individual player’s button. But I don’t think we got the best shots tonight in the floor game.” 

And as the offense often flailed, the defense frequently fouled. 

Though the Thunder defense had its moments — forcing 13 Philly turnovers that became 22 OKC points — it gave up 21 second-chance points and sent the Sixers to the free-throw line 45 times. 

Embiid, who finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, went 19 of 21 at the line, making nearly as many foul shots as the Thunder did as a team. OKC went 21 for 26 at the line. 

Daigneault had no issue with Philly getting so many attempts at the foul line but wondered afterward about his team getting so few. 

“I think on a lot of those plays, if we had unlimited challenges and challenged a lot of those plays, I think (the officials) would have upheld them,” Daigneault said. “With the disparity, I just wish some of the contact that was called on that end of the floor was called on the other end if that’s the way it’s gonna get called.” 

Still, he said, his team has to be better defensively. 

On Saturday it needed to be better offensively, too. 

“I feel like we had really good moments of everything throughout the game,” Holmgren said. “We just have to be better at being consistent with everything.”

For six games, the Thunder was. 

For one odd Saturday evening, that “best punch” wasn’t there. 

“That hasn’t been who we are to this point in the season,” Daigneault said. “We’ve strung together a good amount of games now where we brought that. I didn’t think we were bad, but I just didn’t think it was our best, and obviously against a team that good you got to have your best if you want to win the game.” 

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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