When Matisse Thybulle arrived in Philadelphia, he was alleged to fit the profile of three-and-D wing, a young player with the length, range and instincts to occupy a role on the defensive end court while growing his offensive game. While that plan hasn’t necessarily changed, Thybulle continues to show an athleticism and flair that few envisioned when the Sixers drafted him at No. 20 overall. In the Sixers’ 97-92 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night, he again served as something of a catalyst on the offensive end of the court, highlighted by a soaring two-handed dunk over Denver big man Mason Plumlee early in the second quarter, the video of which you can find below.
In addition to the dunk, which help jump-start a Sixers run that would see them take a 51-38 lead in the second quarter, Thybulle drained a trio of three pointers while continuing to play his usual pain-the-rear defense.
Thybulle was coming off a career-best performance against the Raptors in which he played 31 minutes, scored 20 points, and hit five of his eight three-point attempts. His performance against the Nuggets was notable because it came on a night that Josh Richardson returned to the lineup after a six-game absence. While Thybulle’s role has changed on a nightly basis, he is clearly cementing himself as someone who needs minutes.
Other observations from the Sixers’ win:
1) Joel Embiid finally got one on Nikola Jokic. The Sixers big man entered the night shooting just .356 from the field in four career matchups against the Nuggets center, with averages of 19.3 points, 5.3 turnovers and five personal fouls. The last time the two All-Stars squared off, on Nov. 8 in Denver, Embiid fouled out after turning the ball over eight times and scoring 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Jokic, meanwhile, scored 26 on 10-of-22 shooting in the Nuggets’ win.
This time around, Embiid recorded a decisive victory, scoring 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field.
The Sixers made a conscious effort to get him involved early, running a dribble handoff action on each of their first two possessions that resulted in a pair of mid-range jumpers by Embiid. Later in the first quarter, he hit another mid-range pull-up, this time over Mason Plumlee. The next time down the court, Will Barton left Mike Scott to double Embiid, who eventually recognized the open shooter and hit Scott with a kick-out for a wide open three that gave the Sixers a 24-23 lead.
With 2:56 left in the first half, Embiid bodied up on Jokic on the low block, put his shoulder in the Nuggets’ big man’s chest, and finished with a layup to give him 14 points on the night. The next time down the court he hit Mike Scott with a perfect bounce pass off a backdoor cut for a layup. Midway through the second quarter, Embiid’s volleyball spike of a Plumlee shot started a fast break that ended with a big Simmons dunk.
But The highlight of Embiid’ s night came with 0.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter, when he got his arm tangled with Monte Morris inside the restricted area and somehow managed to throw up a stumbling, blind shot over his head that dropped through the net to go with the foul.
2) Ben Simmons’ ability in the open court gives the Sixers’ offense a dimension that few teams can match. The last time these two teams played, Raul Neto was in the starting lineup and Simmons was in street clothes nursing a sprained shoulder. This time, his presence made plenty of difference. While he wasn’t nearly as active in the Sixers’ half-court sets as he was a couple of nights earlier against the Raptors, he led a transition attack that kept the Nuggets on their heels for most of the night. Midway through the second quarter, he dropped a pass for the trailing Furkan Korkmaz in transition for an open three-pointer that gave the Sixers their largest lead of the game at 46-33. At one point in the second quarter, the Sixers had outscored the Nuggets 14-0 in fast break points.
3) Tobias Harris has be a better-than-anticipated defender on the perimeter this season, but he had some early struggles against dynamic Nuggets guard Will Barton. Barton scored the Nuggets’ first 13 points from an assortment of spots before the Sixers settled him down, with Simmons, Thybulle and James Ennis III combining to give them solid D. On the offensive end, Harris continues to look more comfortable in his role — he finished the night with 20 points.
Since breaking out of an epic shooting funk in mid-November, Harris is averaging over 21 points per game while shooting 41+ percent from three-point range, including 2-for-4 on Tuesday.