The 76ers knocked the Golden State Warriors out of first place and put Steph Curry’s record-setting moment on hold.
They accomplished both things with a 102-93 upset Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The victory improved the Sixers to 15-12 and marked their fifth win in six games. Meanwhile, the Warriors (21-5) fell a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns for the league and the Western Conference’s best record. It was just Golden State’s third loss in its last 13 games.
After Seth Curry gave the Sixers a 93-83 cushion with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining, Joel Embiid scored the Sixers’ next seven points to make it a 100-89 game with 1:08 left. Tobias Harris then added a pair of foul shots to extend the Sixers’ cushion to 13 points with 46.8 seconds remaining.
Embiid finished with a game-high 26 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. The four-time All-Star made all 11 of his foul shots. Sixteen of his points came after intermission.
Harris added 16 points and nine rebounds. He went 7-for-7 from the foul line.
Steph Curry will have to wait at least another game to break the record for the most threes in NBA history thanks to lockdown defense by Matisse Thybulle. Curry came into night needing 10 three-pointers to pass Ray Allen (2,973) for the record.
The two-time MVP, however, shot 3-for-14 from three and now has 2,967. He finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three turnovers.
“I give Thybulle credit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a rare combination of length and athleticism and brains. He did as good a job on Steph as anybody I’ve seen in a long time.”
In addition to being one of his worst shooting performances, Curry was held to nine points below his scoring average of 27.1 points.
“He was amazing,” Embiid said of Thybulle. “I’ve been saying this since he got here: He’s probably the best perimeter defender in the league. I think he has a chance to win defensive player of the year.”
But Curry wasn’t the only Warrior struggling to hit three-pointers.
Golden State shot 12-for-48 (25%) on mostly wide-open attempts in the loss.
We obviously didn’t make shots,” Curry said. “They pressured, obviously, me all night long. Thybulle is obviously a pretty long defender and they were trying to force us into the paint and make the extra pass and we kind of did that early.
“Didn’t shoot it as effectively as we wanted to, we made that third quarter run. Then we went and got really cold, and against a good defense like that and a good team like that.”
Special night spoiled
There was thought that Curry could reach the milestone while playing against his brother, Sixers shooting guard Seth Curry.
But during Friday’s practice at Temple University, Steph downplayed chasing the record against his brother.
“You can create a narrative for any of these four games coming up,” Curry said at the time. “Playing against Seth; knowing how much Reggie [Miller] meant to Indiana; obviously, the [Madison Square] Garden speaks for itself; and Boston, where Ray passed Reggie on that floor. We’ll find a special narrative wherever it happens.”
But Sixers coach Doc Rivers had coached Allen for a five seasons with the Boston Celtics. Before Saturday’s game, Rivers was asked to compare Allen and Steph Curry.
Rivers called them both terrific shooters.
“You know, it’s funny, you know, Steph just his imagination,” Rivers said, “the threes that he’s made off the dribble and the point and the players he made them from have made him just an unbelievable shooter, obviously. But there’s just different eras.
“And one guy said we didn’t play that way. We didn’t take that many threes. And yet Ray was still able to get the record that he got.”
Allen averaged 5.7 three-point attempts over an 18-year career. Curry, a 13th-year veteran, averaged 8.7 in 786 career games heading into Saturday night.
Thybulle’s solid defense on Curry
Thybulle started in place of Danny Green at small forward to guard Steph Curry. He did a solid on the two-time NBA scoring champion.
Curry shot 1-for-6 in the first quarter, missing both of three-point attempts. He was 0-for-4 with Thybulle as the primary defender. Thybulle, however, picked up his second foul early the second quarter. His third foul came with 2:26 seconds before intermission. The call was controversial as Curry tripped on his own feet.
Before Thybulle left the game, Curry missed his first three three-pointers. But with Thybulle on the bench, Curry converted his next attempt with 1:45 to go before intermission to knot the score at 42.
Then his second three-pointer gave the Warriors a 49-44 with 17.9 seconds before the half.
Thybulle, who only had one foul after intermission, finished with two blocks, both coming on Curry shots.
He was asked the key to defending the prolific scorer.
“Playing hard,” Thybulle said with a smile. “But seriously, having guys willing to let me take on that one-on-one matchup and play the rest of the team four-on-four.”
He added that there’s no secrets to guarding a player like Curry. One has to play “really hard” and be willing to get scored on.
Thybulle knew that Curry would make tough and spectacular plays. So it was matter of playing through that, being a consistent force, and not letting Curry’s success take him on a rollercoaster.
“The physical part is easy ... ,” he said of guarding Curry. “The hardest part is the mental side of understanding where he’s trying to score, not falling asleep on plays. He can just lull you to sleep. And before you know it, he’s wide open shooting a three.”
But that rarely happened with Thybulle guarding him.
Solid second half
The Sixers turned the game around in the second half.
They shot 54.1% after intermission after shooting just 38.5% through the first two quarters. A lot of that turnaround was spearheaded by the Sixers’ reserves.
Clutch plays from their bench enabled the Sixers to battle back from a 13-point deficit (71-58) with 4:55 left in the third quarter. Furkan Korkmaz’s three-pointer with 24.3 seconds left enabled the Sixers to end the quarter down just three points (73-70).
Thybulle and reserves Andre Drummond, Shake Milton, Georges Niang, and Korkmaz then opened the fourth quarter with a 12-5 run to give the Sixers an 82-78 cushion. Riding their momentum, the Sixers went to post their largest margin (13 points) on Harris’ late foul shots.
“The bench did such a great job,” Embiid said. “They came in with a purpose. That was great to see, especially because, for the most part, we didn’t have any rhythm. But we came out, got stops defensively and offensively. Then just moved the ball well and made shots.”
Sixers giving back
Sixers managing partner Josh Harris presented Tobias Harris with the October NBA Cares Community Assists Award before the game. On the heels of that, Josh Harris committed $20,000 to the Mary McLeod Bethune School as part of Tobias Harris’ Lit Labs program. The owner shares his player’s commitment in improving literacy and educational outcomes for the Philly region’s youth.
“The 76ers organization believes in leveraging the incredible platform of sports to better the communities we serve,” the Sixers said in a statement. “Tobias Harris embodies that mission and we’re fortunate that he is one of our leaders on and off the court. We’re thrilled he is being recognized with the NBA Cares Community Assist Award and proud to support his efforts to improve the reading levels of children in our city.”