WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – All the early signs point toward Matisse Thybulle becoming a fan favorite.
The 76ers rookie turned in another stellar defensive performance in a 100-87 preseason blowout of the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Thybulle finished with four steals, two blocks, and three points in 18 minutes, 18 seconds in a reserve role.
It didn’t take long for the 22-year-old to make an impact. Thybulle recorded a block and two steals in his first two minutes off the bench.
“Defensively is where I’ve always been more comfortable on the court,” said the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year. “So I think that’s been coming to me a lot faster than I expected."
Thybulle is getting a feel for the speed of the game and the game is starting to slow down for him. Friday night’s game served as kind of a confidence builder.
“This one definitely felt like more of an NBA game just because we were playing a real NBA team,” said Thybulle after playing against a Chinese squad on Tuesday. “I mean it’s still preseason. They are still figuring stuff out just like we are.”
He thinks it’s going to be interesting to see how the season plays out.
“But I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable than even I was in summer league,” said Thybulle, the 2019 national defensive player of the year.
He was far from the only Sixer with a solid performance.
Josh Richardson, obtained in a trade with Miami for Jimmy Butler this summer, dominated on both sides of the ball. He scored 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting and added a balanced game with four assists, three blocks, and a steal. He was the Sixers’ postgame bell ringer.
“He’s going to be special for us,” coach Brett Brown said. “I think the city of Philadelphia is going to love him."
Richardson gets after it defensively while being unselfish on offense.
“I think he is so vital to the bonding of our team,” Brown said. “He’s a glue-type guy. I think his skill set and what he brings to the table, especially to me defensively and especially guarding another point guard, stands out the most.”
Asked what he looks forward to bringing to Philly for the Oct. 23 season opener against the Boston Celtics, Richardson responded “energy, passion.”
“I play nasty, man,” Richardson said. “I don’t try to play cute. I don’t try to play cool or none of that. I try to outwork the guy across from me.”
Tobias Harris had 16 points and Ben Simmons finished with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting playing just 23:11. He also had four assists, two steals, and a block.
Al Horford added 11 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and two blocks in 17:15. In all, the Sixers blocked 13 shots.
Shake Milton joined Harris, Simmons, Richardson, and Horford in the starting lineup, with Joel Embiid sitting out for load management. Milton scored four points on 2-for-5 shooting in 17:09 of action.
Milton and Thybulle were arguably the Sixers’ most impressive reserves heading into the game. Yet Milton, a second-year guard, showed little emotion Friday morning when talking about getting the start. Nor is the former G League two-way player caught up with the attention he’s receiving by outplaying several of the team’s veteran free-agent guard pickups.
“I don’t really try to worry about anything extra other than doing my job,” Milton said, "and doing what my coaches expect from me and what my teammates expect from me.
“I don’t really pay attention to what’s being said.”
However, the 23-year-old said it’s exciting to know the Sixers have confidence in him.
With Milton starting, Raul Neto (six points) was the backup point guard against the Hornets. Trey Burke was the backup on Tuesday against vs. the Long-Lions. The two are battling to be Simmons’ backup and Brown wants to give them equal opportunity to show they can fulfill that role.
Horford did what folks expected him to do in Embiid’s absence: Dominate
He scored the first four points of the game. After the Hornets’ Miles Bridges hit a three-pointer, Horford responded with an alley-oop dunk from Simmons to make it a 6-3 game.
One of the highlights of the first quarter was Simmons’ fadeaway jumper that gave the Sixers an 11-8 lead and drew huge applause from the crowd.
Milton seemed a little passive in the starting lineup, but starting alongside Simmons, Horford, Harris and Richardson, his role wasn’t to produce points. His first basket came midway through the fourth quarter.