It was a signature moment in the best game of his young career, and it showed 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle at his best on both ends of the floor.
The sequence came Wednesday in the third quarter of a 97-91 win over Sacramento that improved the Sixers to 12-6, including 8-0 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield was lighting it up, with 18 points before four minutes had elapsed in the third quarter. Hield had hit consecutive threes, one from 25 feet and then another from 27. Neither came with Thybulle guarding him.
Then Hield attempted another three that was soundly rejected by Thybulle. The rookie from Washington then ran the floor, took a pass from Ben Simmons, and rammed home a thundering running dunk.
Sure, the Sixers got 33 points from Joel Embiid, a game after he was held scoreless in a 101-96 loss at Toronto, but Thybulle gave the Sixers plenty of energy and production off the bench.
He scored a season-high 15 points, surpassing his previous best of nine. Thybulle was 5-for-5 from the field, including three three-pointers, and hit both foul shots while adding two blocks and four steals.
What is more impressive is how the 6-foot-5 shooting guard stayed ready. In the previous game, at Toronto, Thybulle played 3 minutes, 26 seconds.
His minutes have fluctuated this year, from one game where he didn’t play at all to a season-high 23:42 in the second game of the season, a 117-111 win over Detroit.
It’s all part of the rookie process. He was a sensation in training camp and through the early part of the season, but like most rookies, Thybulle has been striving for consistency.
So with uneven playing time, Thybulle was asked after the game how he stays ready. He sounded like a 10-year veteran.
“You stay ready,” Thybulle said. “It is not a matter of getting ready or not being ready. You just got to be ready for every opportunity.”
That is not always easy.
“Being a rookie, you don’t know what is coming your way and you have to be able to step up every time when they call your name,” Thybulle said.
The Sixers needed the game because starting shooting guard Josh Richardson didn’t play in the second half with tightness in his right hamstring.
Furkan Korkmaz started the second half for the Sixers, but he wasn’t effective and Thybulle got the call with 8:17 left in the third quarter.
Richardson is listed as doubtful to face the Knicks on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. That is the first of a weekend back-to-back for the Sixers, who will host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Regardless of Richardson’s status, Thybulle probably earned some extra minutes.
His defense has been strong, although coach Brett Brown says the rookie has to learn to pick his spots when gambling.
As for his offense, it is a work in progress. But if he can be a threat from three-point range, that should also earn him additional minutes.
Entering the game he was 9-for-28 from three-point range (.321).
“He had proper footwork in his shot and it looked good, it really looked balanced,” Brown said. “Then he was getting deflections and steals and I am sure he felt good about his defense that you think carried over to the confidence in his shot.”
All rookies have so much to digest and the successful ones learn to react more than think.
“When he doesn’t think he is a great play defensively and offensively,” said point guard Ben Simmons, who had 10 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists (with five turnovers). “He is long, he gets steals and blocks. He is probably one of the best defenders on the team and offensively he is spotting up, getting to the rim.”
It’s all part of the learning process, especially for a rookie on a team with championship aspirations.
Notes: Al Horford (rest) and Kyle O’Quinn (left calf strain) are listed as out for the Sixers against the Knicks. This is the second game that Horford will miss for rest. The first came Nov. 12 against Cleveland, which was also the first game of a back-to-back.