THE WINNING streak is over, but the positives that came out of last night's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder might have outnumbered the ones taken from the team's only win of the season on Wednesday in Minnesota.
No, Oklahoma City wasn't at its elite level, as Kevin Durant was playing only his second game of the season after suffering a broken foot, and Russell Westbrook only his fifth because of a busted hand. And sure, the Sixers still suffered a 12-point setback, 103-91.
But they took what OKC dealt and just kept fighting, sticking around like an annoying fly in the summer. And when Luc Mbah a Moute hit a layup with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining to cut the lead to seven, optimistic fans undoubtedly had visions of a winning streak dancing in their heads.
But after getting a steal, the Sixers turned the ball over and Durant deposited a fastbreak layup and Oklahoma City closed out it out by scoring 10 of the game's last 15 points. The Thunder improved to 6-13 after starting the season 3-12.
In a chippy contest that featured a lot of jawing, with Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams supplying most of it at one another, the young Sixers impressed themselves and their coach with an attitude of not backing down.
"There was a physical side of the group tonight, albeit with young guys, that I was proud of," said coach Brett Brown, whose team dropped to 1-18. "There was no backdown. We had one bad lull in the third period. After that, there was a lot of fight in that young group."
The game never really had much of a rhythm, as Durant struggled to find his touch, made only three of his 11 shots and scored 10 points. He hasn't been held to single digits since March 14, 2009. The Thunder played just sloppy enough throughout to keep the Sixers sort of within reach, but too often the Sixers were their usual selves, combining bad shooting with ample turnovers and selective defense at times. Still, the fight and the effort were never an issue.
"It's basketball, it is what it is," said Carter-Williams of his verbal exchanges with Westbrook, who scored a game-high 27 points and dealt seven assists, to go with six turnovers. "He plays hard for his team, and I go out there and play hard with mine. It gets competitive, the chitchat, you go back and forth. It's part of the game. I've got nothing against him. It just gets intense. There's pride involved, and after the game it's all good. It's fun and I enjoy it."
It was another good numbers outing for Carter-Williams, who posted 16 points and 14 assists. He has dealt 46 in his past four games, all with Tony Wroten sidelined with a knee injury. Robert Covington came off the bench to lead the Sixers with 21 points, while Luc Mbah a Moute, Nerlens Noel (10 rebounds) and K.J. McDaniels scored 11 each. Henry Sims added 10 points.
Covington is proving himself to be the type of outside shooter this team has needed since the beginning of last season. He hit half of his six three-point attempts and eclipsed his career high of 17 points set Wednesday in Minnesota.
"I want him to shoot as many open threes as he can. That's what that kid does," Brown said. "He's got a high release. You think he's covered a little bit, and he goes up an extra few inches and he fades a little bit. He's actually able to get shots off, and that's his role on this team. We want him to space the floor. I'm learning with how to use him best and we're trying to get shooters as much as possible on the floor."
Before the game, the team announced it had brought up guard Malcolm Lee from the Delaware 87ers and waived forward Drew Gordon. The Sixers were in need of a point guard with both Wroten and Alexey Shved still sidelined with knee injuries, leaving Carter-Williams as the team's only true point.
"After we realized Alexey wasn't going to play, you start playing out what the is the worst nightmare, what is going to hurt the most - if Michael gets injured, if Michael gets in foul trouble," Brown said. "Obviously, there are great coaches in the league trying to exploit. We felt like we needed to do something now and bring him in. At least he will be there for us to call upon if we need him. I still may look at one of our other young guys as a ballcarrier, but you have a plan C if you need it."
Lee was suited, but did not get in the game.