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Matisse Thybulle is excelling on offense for the Sixers since returning from his COVID-19 absence

Thybulle scored a season-high 15 points in his second game back from health and safety protocols, helping pace a Sixers’ offense that beat the Kings without four starters, including Joel Embiid.

Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle, left, dunks the ball against Portland Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle, left, dunks the ball against Portland Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Philadelphia.Read moreMatt Slocum / AP

SAN FRANCISCO — Less than a minute into Monday’s 76ers win at Sacramento, Matisse Thybulle flew through the lane for a dunk.

It was a sign of things to come for the third-year wing. Thybulle scored a season-high 15 points in his second game back from COVID-19 health and safety protocols, helping pace a Sixers offense that beat the Kings without starters Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Danny Green.

Already an All-Defensive second-teamer on the perimeter, Thybulle’s impact on the other end of the floor has been a work in progress throughout his early career. He was an efficient 6-of-8 from the floor Monday, flashing the skill set that can make him a consistent complementary offensive threat even when the Sixers return to full strength.

Thybulle spoke earlier this season about becoming more confident in his three-point shot. Coach Doc Rivers also believes Thybulle is most dangerous when he gets out in the open floor when “releasing” off a rebound, and when he cuts sharply to the basket. Rivers also praised Thybulle’s willingness to set picks as a perimeter player.

“He needed me to be more confident in him, maybe, offensively and just allow him to play,” Rivers said. “I think he understands now from me what I need him to be and how I need him to play, and he’s embraced that.”

Thybulle remained a defensive menace even with the increased offensive load on Monday. In past games against the Kings, he has guarded speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox in the pick-and-roll. Monday night, he guarded sharpshooter Buddy Hield, who started the game 4-of-4 from deep in the first quarter but then made only one of his seven attempts after that.

“There’s no secret,” Thybulle said of how he defended Hield. “With guys like that, one of his crazy skills is getting shots up. It’s weird to say that’s a skill, but he’s elite at it. For me, it was just play as hard as I could just to always be in his path, in his shadow.”

Up next for Thybulle: guarding superstar Steph Curry, who is having an MVP-caliber season for the 15-2 Warriors.

In the clutch

When the Sixers returned to the locker room after Monday’s win, center Andre Drummond described a collective exhale.

“Everybody just took a deep breath and just let it out,” Drummond said.

Not just because the Sixers pulled off a road victory while severely undermanned, but because they prevailed in a down-to-the-wire game during this challenging stretch.

The Sixers are 2-6 since Embiid entered health and safety protocols on Nov. 8. But only one of those losses was by double digits, a 120-85 defeat at Utah on Nov. 16.

Crunch time is when having stars who can take over games matters, Rivers said. But against the Kings, the Sixers relied on their team defense, Drummond’s rebounding, and offensive execution that resulted in the ball finding the open man.

“We’re in these situations so often, it’s good to see us respond the way we do,” said backup point guard Shake Milton, who hit two big jumpers to give the Sixers the late lead and two free throws that all but sealed the game. " … It’s also going to help whenever we’re whole again. A lot of times, some guys are playing out of position. It forced guys to step up defensively and have bigger roles.”

The Sixers are 5-6 in “clutch” games, which the NBA defines as contests that are within five points with five or less minutes remaining. They ranked 18th in the NBA in net rating (minus-8.5 points per 100 possessions) in such games entering Tuesday, 17th in field-goal percentage (39%), and 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (40.4%).

Embiid out, Harris, Curry and Green questionable for Golden State game

Per the NBA’s Tuesday injury report, Embiid (health and safety protocols) will miss Wednesday’s road-trip finale at Golden State, while Harris (hip), Curry (back), and Green (hamstring) are all listed as questionable.

Embiid tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 8 but resumed individual workouts in Camden earlier this week. Green initially injured his hamstring in a Nov. 1 win against Portland and, after missing three games, felt tightness return during a Nov. 13 loss at Indiana and has not played since then. Harris sustained his hip injury late in Saturday’s loss at Portland and did not play Monday, while Curry was a late scratch from that game in Sacramento with back stiffness.

After Wednesday’s game against the Warriors, the Sixers return home to face the Timberwolves (Saturday) and Magic (Monday) before heading back on the road for a four-game trip to Boston, Atlanta and Charlotte (twice).