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July 06, 2023

Quick Six: Sixers' comeback bid falls short vs. Thunder to end Utah Summer League

Kyle Neubeck gives his six observations from the Sixers’ Summer League loss in Utah to the Thunder.

The Sixers nearly dug out of a 30-point hole with a huge fourth-quarter comeback, but they fell to the Thunder 100-91 to close out their Summer League trip to Utah.

Here's what I saw.

I have watched a lot of Summer League basketball, more than any sane person should watch in a lifetime, and that first quarter of slop was up there with the worst I've been subjected to. The Summer Sixers turned the ball over eight times in the span of 10 minutes, went down by 19 points, and produced not a single highlight of significance. Hard to manage at that competition level.

The only exciting moment came when Ricky Council IV came flying in from nowhere to throw down a putback slam, only for an official to (erroneously) rule that he had interfered with the ball while it was still in the cylinder. Even the brief moment of joy was taken away from Philadelphia.

Here's hoping the product is better in Las Vegas, looking closer to what we saw in their first two games out in Utah. Or in fairness, more like their second half, when they went on a giant run to get back into this game.

A brief footnote on the above — who the hell decided there needed to be back-to-backs in Summer League, let alone three games in four days? Were they under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol?)

Zhaire Smith scored 11 points in 11 first-half minutes for the Thunder on Thursday evening, and 16 points for the game against Philadelphia. It is worth noting that he only scored 48 minutes in 143 minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers, with many of those minutes coming in meaningless games and/or garbage time.

It really is remarkable how little the Sixers got from Smith when you consider the man he was directly traded for. Mikal Bridges has not just been ultra-productive for the Suns and now the Nets, he has been an iron man, appearing in every game his team has played in five seasons (including 83 games last season as a result of the trade to Brooklyn.) 

What Smith does in an exhibition game on July 6 means very little for his pro prospects, and while I'm on an island here compared to the many frustrated by his Sixers run, I hope he's able to get his career back on track. Was a real blast from the past to see him out there.

This was actually a better shooting performance for Terquavion Smith than what he offered against Utah on Wednesday night, but I thought his flaws were more clear in this game. The Sixers were desperately in need of an organizer in this game, turning the ball over left and right with rushed passes and poor ball security. And while Smith has been a better playmaker than expected so far, he was not the guy to calm things down and get Philly into sets. 

In fact, I thought he had a few possessions that trended toward reckless as a scorer, trying to bring Philly back into the game with a quick trigger. Smith was known as a guy with a bit too much confidence at times with N.C. State and I thought that manifested in this game.

I simply do not believe in Jaden Springer's handle and think it undermines the argument that he will eventually be an NBA rotation guy. His strength as a driver is noteworthy and allowed him to march to the free-throw line yet again on Thursday, which should not be taken for granted. But he gave the ball away early and often, unable to consistently get to his spots with his ballhandling.

Not trying to be too much of a doomer on him yet, but don't love what I've seen. 

A thing maybe only I will care about — Javonte Smart missed a shot with the Sixers down 29 points late in the first half, flew back in transition in order to stop the Thunder from scoring, and then assisted Jaden Springer with a drop off pass in transition for two points plus a foul. It was a situation that screamed "Give up on the play!" if you consider basic human instincts, and Smart managed to keep on going in order to to help out his team. 

Smart came back to Earth as a shooter in this one after a blazing start to Summer League, but he was a big part of the comeback effort from Philadelphia on Thursday. At the least, he showed a level of desperation all teams want to see in this setting, and it reflects a sense of pride and competitiveness that will make a program better. 

And give credit to the Sixers' entire Summer League roster for continuing to battle despite this looking like a lost cause. They trailed by 20+ points for a huge chunk of the game, but they chipped away and chipped away until it was down to single digits with under five to play, setting up a chance for a dramatic conclusion.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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