Thunder spoil Embiid’s debut
PHILADELPHIA >> Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and took over late to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 103-97 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
Westbrook scored the decisive points on opening night for the Thunder in their first game since franchise star Kevin Durant left in free agency and signed with the Golden State Warriors.
Joel Embiid scored 20 points in 22 minutes in his first game for the Sixers since they made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Embiid had sat out the last two seasons with foot injuries. He received a roaring ovation when he was introduced and fans went wild on every shot.
The 76ers had a tripleheader of image faux pas on opening night: The scheduled anthem singer says she was booted because she wanted to wear a “We Matter” jersey; a fan was kicked out for extending two middle fingers at Westbrook; and halftime singer Desiigner was booed off the court for a shirtless performance where he dropped his pants to his ankles.
Westbrook and Embiid swapped jumpers that tied the game 97-all. Westbrook sank two free throws with 35 seconds left for a 9997 lead in front of a raucous crowd. Enes Kanter silenced them for good and sent them toward the exits with a putback layup after the Sixers missed a shot on the other end.
Yes, it was another loss for the Sixers, but one that came with a 7-foot-2 asterisk.
Embiid’s performance largely stole the show from the opening-night shenanigans that otherwise tarnished the night.
Sixers fans who had been waiting to cheer for Embiid for more than two years went wild every time he touched the ball. A group of fans held a sign that read, “In Embiid We Trust.”
The Sixers just might prove they made the right decision to trust in Embiid.
The crowd of nearly 20,000 fans erupted when the “7-foot-2 center from Kansas, Joooooel, Embiiiiid” was introduced during game introductions. They stood and gasped when Embiid attempted his first shot of the game — a missed 3-pointer.
He grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up the floor and it helped lead to an alley-oop to fellow newcomer Gerald Henderson. He had a nifty spin in the post and a bucket for a quick 10-2 lead.
The Sixers, yes, the 10-72 Sixers, at last had a dose of good news.
Coach Brett Brown said he would limit Embiid to four, 5-minute spurts and the center spent at least one game break in the locker room on an exercise bike to stay loose.
Embiid starred on a nationally televised performance and gave a teasing glimpse that he just may be the franchise cornerstone player that can help shift the franchise toward respectability.
Westbrook, now The Man in OKC, refused to cede the spotlight entirely to Embiid. He scored 12 points in the first quarter and 22 through three to keep the Thunder within striking distance entering the fourth.
He closed the game with the jumper and free throws and showed life without Durant might not be so bad for the Thunder.
Thunder: Coach Billy Donovan said the Thunder will win without Durant, just “do it in a different way.” “It will be a constant process throughout the season to get everyone to understand.” ... Donovan said Westbrook can’t try and play as a one-man show or else “it’s just going to wear him out.”
76ers: Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard rang the ceremonial opening bell . ... UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was at the game . ... Fans chanted “Trust The Process” when Embiid was at the free-throw line. The catchphrase became a rallying cry under former team president Sam Hinkie.
The Sixers ejected a portly fan in an Allen Iverson jersey who directed both middle fingers toward Westbrook from his courtside seat. The fan raised his arms in triumph and highfived fans as he was escorted out of the arena.
Rapper Desiigner was booed off the court for a halftime performance where he ripped off his shirt and left with his jeans down to his ankles and his boxers exposed.
No. 1 overall draft pick Ben Simmons says there is no timetable for his return to the Sixers from a broken bone in his right foot. He said he has not discussed the possibility of sitting out the season.
“I’ll come back when I’m ready,” Simmons said.
Thunder: Host Phoenix on Friday in their home opener.
76ers: Host Atlanta on Saturday. They open with three straight and five of their first six at home.
Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, center, drives to the basket between Philadelphia 76ers’ Nik Stauskas, right, and Jerami Grant, left, during the first half Wednesday.