The Sixers couldn't keep up with the young Thunder.
To use a boxing analogy, Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder had all of the makings of a prizefighter taking on the proverbial tomato can. While the Thunder are one of the class teams in the Western Conference, the Sixers have struggled to find their identity, and are facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs in the East.
But as the familiar refrain goes: that's why they play the games.
The Sixers hung around for nearly all 48 minutes last night, but couldn't cap off a late rally, losing 109-103 in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each scored 31 points for the Thunder (4-3), who had their best offensive output of the season.
"We did some great things, but you saw the maturity of a great team that has been together for awhile," said coach Doug Collins following the loss to the Thunder. "And you saw us once again trying to learn."
After two wins in the last eight days, the Sixers are well past the point where moral victories count for anything in the ledger. However, despite the loss, last night was the definition of a total team effort. Elton Brand had his usual workman-like performance (17 points, 9 rebounds), and Jrue Holiday had a very solid night running the point for the 2-6 Sixers (17 points, 11 assists).
The Sixers' play last night was admirable considering the fact that they were without two-fifths of their opening night starting lineup. Andre Iguodala missed his second straight game with a strained right Achilles' tendon, while Jason Kapono didn't play vs. the Thunder due to personal issues.
Iguodala's absence has led to increased playing time for others, especially Jodie Meeks, who has made the most of the opportunity. Against Oklahoma City, Meeks scored 17 points in 22 minutes off the bench, including 13 in the 4th quarter.
And the maturation of Evan Turner continues: the rookie out of Ohio State scored 13 points and had 8 rebounds in his most extended action of the season (39 minutes).
Not all of the news out of last night's game was good, however. Lou Williams, the catalyst for the Sixers' second unit, suffered a left shoulder contusion late in the third quarter, and his status for Friday's game in Dallas is uncertain.
Wednesday's game was the perfect example of a team that knows how to win versus a team that is slowly trying to figure it out. Ideally, the Sixers will mature and reach the level of the Thunder, but that will undoubtedly take some time. A single statement during Doug Collins's postgame press conference summed up his plan for his young team.
"You love them, and you correct them," said Collins. "That's what you have to do."