After a slow start, Matisse Thybulle once again figures to have a vital role with the 76ers.
The second-year swingman broke into the rotation Tuesday when Furkan Korkmaz was sidelined with a left groin strain. The Sixers are looking for him to be aggressive defense, force turnovers, and attempt open shots.
“Yeah, he’s going to be a key factor,” Rivers said following Thursday’s 116-92 road victory over the Orlando Magic. “We’ve been telling him that from the beginning. Matisse is going to be a key player for this basketball team.”
But it all came together on Thursday.
Not only did he post two blocked shots and a steal, Thybulle scored his first points of the season on a three-point play with 8 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first half. Then he buried a three-pointer a little over a minute later. Thybulle followed with another three-pointer.
He finished with nine points — all in a 2:24 span. For the game, he shot 3-for-5, including 2-of-4 three-pointers. Thybulle also finished with four rebounds in a season-high 17:54 of playing time.
This came after he missed his only three field-goal attempts, including one three-pointer, in the first four games.
“I thought his first half on both ends was phenomenal,” Rivers said of Thybulle’s outing Thursday. “Second half, I was a little upset because I think he had two threes that he passed up and tried to drive. I told him, ‘Man, when you are open, let it fly.’ ”
Attempting just one shot — a three-pointer — after intermission, Thybulle reverted back to the player who passed up scoring opportunities in the first four games.
It’s obvious that he’s just getting an offensive feel for playing with his new teammates and for Rivers, the new coach.
“The more minutes I get and the more comfortable we will get with each other on the court, I think it will come,” Thybulle said. “I think we are all growing and trying to figure out what are our shots, what are the better shots. As you can see, I’m going through it as we speak.”
But he did a remarkable job of defending Magic reserve point guard Cole Anthony in the second half. Thybulle’s two blocks, his first ones of the season, came in the fourth quarter.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder is one of the Sixers’ best perimeter defenders. He led NBA rookies with 94 total steals and average steals (1.4 steals) last season. Thybulle also averaged 4.7 points and 19.8 minutes while shooting 35.7% on three-pointers in 65 games played.
Yet, the 23-year-old had been more of an afterthought before Korkmaz’s injury.
“It’s really nothing new,” said Thybulle, who fought for a rotation spot last season after being the 20th overall pick in the draft. “I didn’t come into this season with any expectations to be on the floor based on what I did last year. I knew I was going to have to earn it. I think I’m in the process of doing that right now.”
His next opportunities to work on his offensive rhythm will come Saturday and Monday when the Sixers (4-1) host the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets (2-2) are riding a two-game winning streak after upsetting the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday and Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.
So far, the Sixers’ defense has lived up to Rivers’ lofty expectations.
They led the league in defensive efficiency heading into Friday night’s games. The Sixers also were No. 1 in blocked shots (7.8 per game) and third in fewest points allowed (99.8 per game).
Individually, Ben Simmons was tied for eighth in blocks (1.6 per game).