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Player grades: Thunder fail to spoil Joel Embiid’s return in 109-105 loss to Sixers

Attempting a deep 3-pointer at the top of the key, Isaiah Joe’s shot fell short. Josh Giddey collected the miss and kicked it out to Joe again, who missed another attempt. OKC collected the offensive rebound and failed to tie it with mere seconds left as Jaylin Williams missed a left-wing 3-pointer.

Alas, all three outside shots were quality looks for OKC as it tried to tie it up in the final 16 seconds. Considering the circumstances, the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t have asked for more in their close 109-105 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Thunder — without their top scorers Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams — almost pulled off the upset as all momentum was on the Sixers’ side with Joel Embiid’s return.

The short-handed Thunder showed early on that it wouldn’t be an easy win for the Sixers. They built a quick 9-3 lead in the opening three minutes. After the first quarter, the Sixers held a small 25-22 lead.

A 32-point second frame by the Thunder flipped the scoreboard. Philly was limited to 19 points and OKC entered halftime with a 54-44 advantage thanks to a 21-9 run. The Thunder held firm in the third frame and exited the quarter with an 80-73 lead over the Sixers.

Six straight points by Kelly Oubre Jr. in the opening minute of the fourth quarter suddenly cut OKC’s lead to just one point with essentially the entire final frame left. The Thunder responded by rattling off 11 consecutive points to build a 94-83 lead with 7:27 left in the contest.

The breathing room the run provided OKC suddenly evaporated as the Sixers went on a 12-4 run to turn it into a three-point contest with 4:24 following a transition dunk by Paul Reed. Embiid knocked down a pull-up jumper to tie it at 101 apiece with 3:22 left in the contest.

An electric and-one by Oubre Jr. suddenly gave the Sixers the lead at 104-103 with a little over three minutes left. After that, both teams went ice cold and were combined 0-of-6 from the field for the next two minutes.

The scoring drought finally broke as Lu Dort collected a missed 3-pointer by Joe and muscled his way through for a layup. The physical basket gave OKC a 105-104 lead with 53 seconds left. Embiid retook the lead on the other end with a pair of free throws.

Down by one point, Josh Giddey lost control of his dribble and Embiid poked the ball away for the steal. Accelerating down the floor, Chet Holmgren was forced to foul the reigning MVP. The call was confirmed after a review and Embiid swished in two free throws to give the Sixers a three-point lead with 25 seconds left.

After missing a trio of decent looks from outside, the Sixers finally grabbed a rebound and sealed the result. In total, OKC was outscored by Philly in the final frame, 36-25.

The short-handed Thunder shot 43% from the field and went 13-of-39 (33.3%) from 3. They went 18-of-22 from the free-throw line. They collected 30 assists on 37 baskets. Five Thunder players scored double-digit points.

Holmgren had 22 points and seven rebounds. Aaron Wiggins had 15 points and three steals. Isaiah Joe scored 14 points off the bench. Williams had six points and 12 assists.

Meanwhile, the Sixers shot 46% from the field and went a hot 14-of-30 (46.7%) from 3. They went 23-of-25 from the free-throw line. They dished out 27 assists on 36 baskets. Five Sixers players scored double-digit points.

After missing the last two months recovering from meniscus surgery, Embiid turned in 24 points on 6-of-14 shooting, seven assists and six rebounds in his return. He shot a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line.

Oubre Jr. exploded for 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting and went 5-of-7 from 3. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to lead Philly to the comeback win. Tobias Harris had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Reed had 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

Even though this loss will sting considering the Thunder held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter that was slowly chipped away by the Sixers, this was still a solid showing for undermanned OKC. The lack of their top scorers was fairly evident down the stretch as it mustered just four points in the final four minutes.

The Thunder gutted out a close contest and forced Philly to collect the win with the reigning MVP making his long-awaited return. OKC continues this gauntlet of a back-to-back by traveling to face the Boston Celtics with the hopes that at least one of Gilgeous-Alexander or Williams returns.

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire