The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled to hit their stride lately. Although the team is beginning to get healthy once again, wins aren't coming frequently right now. This past Monday, the Sixers managed to squeak out a victory against the Orlando Magic.
But when the team faced the Boston Celtics on the road on Wednesday night, Philly suffered a one-point loss. Then on Friday, they looked to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks on the road.
At first, the Sixers were in good shape as they got off to an impressive lead in the first quarter of action. However, a lousy second-quarter performance allowed the Hawks to outscore the Sixers by 17 points and garner an eight-point lead heading into halftime.
The 76ers needed a big second half on Friday. And like always, they relied on their defense to issue a spark so they could have success on both sides on the ball. So, when the fourth quarter rolled around, 76ers head coach Doc Rivers allowed Philly's defensive standout Matisse Thybulle to garner playing time in all but two minutes of the fourth quarter in Atlanta.
Although Thybulle didn't single-handily shut the Hawks down, his presence and performance helped the Sixers hold the Hawks to just 15-percent shooting from the field in the final 12 minutes of the game. From beyond the arc, Atlanta went 0-7. Overall, the Hawks scored just nine points in the fourth quarter, leaving the Sixers to win Friday night's matchup 98-96.
Sixers' veteran forward Georges Niang hasn't spent a ton of time playing alongside Thybulle as he's just in his first season in Philly this year. After seeing the young guard play in 16 matchups this year, Niang is convinced Thybulle is one of, if not the best, defender he's played basketball with.
"I've never been around someone that is that good of a defender," Niang said on Friday. "He's legit, and I think the biggest thing for us, even though we added (Andre) Drummond to this team, I think they are the things that Dan Burke wanted to implement, and Doc (Rivers) wanted to implement just to become better than last year, and I think we're growing and learning that day by day."
In addition to Niang, Sixers starting center Joel Embiid also had a lot of great things to say about Thybulle on Friday. While Embiid's praised Thybulle a lot in the past, the four-time All-Star decided to reiterate his belief in Thybulle potentially becoming a Defensive Player of the Year winner in the future once again.
"I've said in the past he has a chance to be the Defensive Player of the Year," Embiid said. "That's how good he is on that end. As a team, we got a bunch of guys that play hard every single night. We got good fundamentals. Coach Dan Burke has really done a good job when it comes to defense. So as a team, we play hard, we have each other's backs, and that's how we're able to put on the defensive display that we that we've done."
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.