Paul George Clutch 4-Point Play Powers Thunder Past Jimmy Butler, 76ers

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 19: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket as Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends during the first half of a game at Wells Fargo Center on January 19, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder busted out of their recent slump Saturday with a 117-115 road win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Arena in Philly.

With the Thunder trailing by two, Paul George nailed a go-ahead three-pointer while getting fouled with five seconds remaining in regulation and completed the four-point play. Jimmy Butler then missed what would have been the game-winning three at the buzzer to seal the win for OKC.

After losing five of its previous six games, OKC picked up the victory to improve to 27-18 on the season, and the Thunder have now won 19 straight games against Philadelphia.

The Sixers dropped to 30-17 and ended a three-game winning streak in the process.

The Thunder received production throughout the lineup, including a team-high 31 points from George to go along with six rebounds and five assists.

Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Dennis Schroder added 21 points off the bench.

Four of the Sixers' five starters scored in double figures, including their Big Three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler.

Embiid registered 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists; Simmons added 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists; and Butler came through with 18 points, four assists and three rebounds.

Oklahoma City led by as much as 16 in the first quarter due largely to the play of center Steven Adams, who scored several easy buckets for the Thunder early in the game.

The Sixers began to whittle away at the deficit, though, and they even tied the game a 44 at one point during the second quarter.

By halftime, the Thunder were leading by just three.

Less than five minutes into the second half, the Sixers managed to tie it back up at 65-65 by virtue of a monster dunk from Embiid.

Philadelphia took the lead shortly thereafter, but Oklahoma City shifted the momentum back in its favor and built its lead back to 79-67. After three quarters of play, the Sixers were down 88-79.

Philly once again chipped away at the OKC lead and took a 99-97 lead with just over five minutes remaining.

George went on an 8-0 run at that point, however, which put the Thunder back in control.

Embiid tied the game at 113-113 by making three free throws with 14 seconds remaining, and Butler then gave the Sixers a 115-113 lead when he stole an errant pass from Schroder and made a layup.

Butler's heroics were all for naught, though, as he fouled George on his go-ahead three and then failed to make the game-winner.

Sixers Must Uncover Formula That Allows Big 3 to Thrive

The Sixers have been among the NBA's top teams since acquiring Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they have seemingly struggled to get their Big Three rolling at the same time.

Both Embiid and Simmons looked great against the Thunder on Saturday, but Butler had perhaps his worst game since joining the 76ers.

Butler shot just 5-of-18 from the field, and Shane Young of ClutchPoints noted that his shot selection was a major culprit:

In addition to making just a trifecta on six attempts, Butler wasn't much of a factor on the boards or as a passer either.

He did come through with some clutch plays late, but his foul on George was a back-breaker for the Sixers, and he also didn't get a great look on the last shot of the game.

While the 76ers fell short Saturday against a quality team, they don't have to hit the panic button.

Simmons narrowly missed out on a triple-double, and Jon Johnson of 94WIP noted how solidly he played despite having a minus-seven rating:

Embiid was arguably the best player on the floor Saturday along with George, as he did a little bit of everything for the Sixers.

He scored around the basket, showed off his range and even made his free throws in the biggest moments of the game.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the Philly Big Three is that Simmons' lack of shooting ability away from the basket forces Butler to take questionable shots at times.

JJ Redick's presence as a three-point gunner takes away some of the pressure, but the Sixers could benefit from adding another shooter to possibly replace Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup.

Philly may also be wise to find a big to both spell and complement Embiid, who doesn't have much support in the paint.

The Sixers are a top contender to win the Eastern Conference regardless because of their overall talent level, and they still have plenty of time for head coach Brett Brown to make the right tweaks ahead of the playoffs.

Thunder Must Add Shooter to Compete With Warriors in West

It can be argued that no Western Conference team besides the Golden State Warriors has more talent than the Thunder, and that was on full display Saturday.

While OKC has struggled recently, Saturday's win was a huge one against one of the NBA's top teams on the road.

The Thunder made some timely shots from long range down the stretch with both George and Terrance Ferguson knocking them down, but there were times during the game when it became clear that OKC needs another player who can knock down threes.

Westbrook went just 1-of-6 from deep, and ESPN.com's Royce Young made mention of his poor shot selection at times:

George and Ferguson combined to go 7-of-15 from three, and Schroder made three of his five three-point attempts, although he usually struggles more in that area.

Overall, the Thunder shot 38.7 percent from beyond the arc, but it wasn't until the fourth quarter that they hit their stride in that area.

While George, Westbrook and Adams are a strong core in the starting lineup, Ferguson and Jerami Grant usually don't do enough to supplement the top players' production.

If the Thunder can find a quality wing player with a reliable three-point shot, then it will go a long way toward bolstering their status as a contender in the West.

A player like Wesley Matthews from the Dallas Mavericks could be a good fit if they are able to make the salaries work.

No team besides maybe the Houston Rockets can go shot for shot with the Warriors, but the Thunder also can't truly compete with them in their current state.

OKC's versatility is nice and there is a lot to like about the team as a whole, but considering the Thunder rank last in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, there is no doubt that they need to make strides in that area in order to go on a playoff run.

              

What's Next?

The Thunder will look to continue their winning ways Monday when they face the struggling New York Knicks on the road.

Meanwhile, the Sixers will attempt to bounce back Monday when they host the surging Houston Rockets.

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