PORTLAND, Ore. — For the 76ers, this was a small step toward getting back to normalcy.
They welcomed Matisse Thybulle, one of their better defenders, back into the fold before Saturday night’s 118-111 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The reserve swingman had been in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols originally for contact tracing since Nov. 5. He then tested positive for the coronavirus while in quarantine.
For the undermanned Sixers (9-8), this marked their sixth loss in seven games.
On this night, they had a tough time against the Blazers’ physicality and appeared a step too slow on defense, especially in pick-and-rolls.
The Sixers had their toughest times containing Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Lillard finished with 39 points, seven assists, and three blocks, while McCollum added 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists. He made 4 of 5 three-pointers.
Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey paced the Sixers with 28 points each. Harris also had eight rebounds before leaving the game with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left and headed to the locker room. There was no official word on his injury by the time the game concluded.
The Sixers still didn’t disclose Harris’ injury during the postgame media available. However, Doc Rivers was asked if he was concerned the injury would sideline Harris.
”I have no idea,” the coach said. “I literally have [no idea]. You know as much about the injury as I do, right now. I’ll find out tonight maybe.”But I didn’t ask, honestly.”
Seth Curry also went out with 39.9 seconds left after appearing to get kick. He return eight seconds later.
Maxey finished with nine assists, two steals, and no turnovers. George Niang, starting in place of Danny Green, added 15. And Thybulle had nine points on 3-for-5 shooting to go with one steal and one block in 21 minutes, 7 seconds in his first game back.
The Sixers are still without Joel Embiid (protocols), Green (left hamstring tightness), and Ben Simmons (mentally not ready to play).
Almost overcoming being a step too slow
The Sixers tried hard, but looked like a team that was overmatched all night. It was kind of amazing that they were still within striking distance in the fourth quarter. They had a tough time keeping up defensively. They appeared to be a step too slow or completely out of position.
Yet, they kept battling and wouldn’t go away.
Harris’ layup with 6:18 left pulled the Sixers within two points, 97-95. But the Blazers responded with an 8-0 run to make it an 105-95 game with 4:39 left.
But Maxey hit four consecutive foul shots to close the gap to five before Lillard responded with a three to make it an 107-100 game at the 3:16 mark.
Thybulle was the first player off the Sixers’ bench, subbing in for Niang with 5:46 seconds left in the first quarter. He scored on his first shot attempt, a dunk, 2:01 later to put Philly up, 21-20.
However, he went on miss his next two shots attempts -- a three-pointer and layup that he front-rimmed --of the half.
“It is crazy being back,” Thybulle said before the game. “I went from not doing not much and seeing nobody to doing a lot and seeing a lot of people.”
The third-year veteran flew to Portland on Friday to rejoin the team. He participated in Saturday morning’s shootaround for that night’s matchup.
As expected, Thybulle, sidelined for seven games and 14 days, looked rusty during a shooting drill before shootaround and during the game.
He last played on Nov. 4 against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. That’s the same day Sixers reserve guard Isaiah Joe tested positive to COVID-19. Joe’s result led to the Sixers testing all their other players for that night’s game. All of the other players, including Thybulle, tested negative.
However, the league placed him in quarantine the next day because he was sitting next to Joe on the bench during the Nov. 3 home against the Chicago Bulls. Their lockers are also next to one another.
Placed in quarantine on Nov. 5, Thybulle took a nine-hour car ride from Detroit to his Philadelphia apartment.
“I was annoyed and I was upset with the rules kind of,” he said. “But then when I got the positive test, I was like, ‘Oh, so they’re here for a reason.’ I was grateful in that case.”
Thybulle, whose only symptom was a mild cold, remained mostly in his apartment while quarantining. He exercised and worked out, but was unable to get up shots.
“You can never replicate playing in a game, even in practice.” Thybulle said. “It’s even harder doing that in an apartment. So we’ll go out there and see how it goes. Take it a minute at a time.”
The third-year veteran came into the contest averaging career highs of 5.1 points and 2.3 steals in nine games with two starts this season.
“Not playing was pretty disappointing,” Thybulle said. “Losing or not, it frustrating not being out there with the guys. We all love playing this game. We obviously love playing together.”
After Saturday’s game, the Sixers traveled to Sacramento for Monday’s game against the Kings at the Golden 1 Center. The Kings lost, 123-105, at home to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night to drop to 6-11 and have lost three straight games