In strange return for Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid gets the last word

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In strange return for Thybulle, Embiid gets the last word originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

There’s been a lot for Matisse Thybulle to process in the month since the Sixers traded him to the Trail Blazers. 

He at least got to catch up a bit before facing his former team Friday night in Philadelphia.

“It’s crazy,” Thybulle said pregame. “I’m very grateful I have good neighbors because they’ve kept my plants alive and grabbed my packages for me. Truth be told, there wasn’t a lot of time to think or set up things. I got a call and then the next morning, I’m on a flight. You want to try to think about everything you’ve left, but there’s so much in front of you that you need to try to take in — playbooks, people, names.

“There really wasn’t much time. So being back, I’m getting a feel for what I left behind and what I’m going to have to figure out this summer. It is kind of nice to be back home in my own apartment.”

With Portland holding a one-point lead and 7.2 seconds left, Thybulle found himself guarding Tyrese Maxey, who’d mentioned Thursday that the two-time All-Defensive wing “always knew the other team’s scouting report.”

“I’ve given away every one of Philly’s secrets,” Thybulle had said a few hours earlier with a laugh.

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Both Thybulle and Maxey ended up watching Joel Embiid’s game-winning jumper, a shot that wrapped up a comeback from 21 points down and improved the No. 3 seed Sixers to 44-22. Portland fell to 31-36, 1.5 games back of a play-in tournament spot and three games back of a top-six seed.

After playing his first 245 NBA games as a Sixer, Thybulle expected a strange night and certainly got one.

He grinned pregame as he embraced good friend Furkan Korkmaz. Some fans booed and some cheered when public address announcer Matt Cord introduced him as a Blazers starter. The crowd reaction was almost completely positive when a tribute video for Thybulle played on the Jumbotron in the first quarter. He heard boos aplenty after making a corner three-pointer in the second quarter.

Beyond the weirdness of his return, Thybulle has been consistently enthusiastic about his transition to Portland, where he’s held a stable starting spot. It’s been a much different role than with the Sixers, where he averaged just 12.1 minutes this season.

“I think it’s a great place for him,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Thursday. “I think playing along (Damian Lillard) and watching Dame work can help him as well, at his position. And you’re guaranteed to get open stuff with Dame. You have to. Watching (the Celtics) last night, they committed two and three guys to him. So if you cut and move … you’re going to get a lot of stuff. And he’s getting minutes there, which I think is important for him.”

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Throughout his time on the Sixers, Thybulle was candid about offense being much less naturally comfortable for him than defense. He aimed to shoot confidently, avoid unnecessary risks, and identify occasional ways to contribute as a cutter, screener and offensive rebounder. On Feb. 8, he told NBC Sports Philadelphia he was “continuing to grow, find new ways and create new niches for myself.”

Of course, Thybulle did not have the chance to develop any further as a Sixer.

“Any player that’s playing out of a place of fear is going to struggle,” he said Thursday, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. “Like there’s going to just be friction in everything you try to do. But when you play for a place of just discipline and receptiveness to what the game’s giving and what you are reading from it. I think there’s a lot more opportunity.

“And for me, specifically, I feel like there was a lot more fear-based play in Philadelphia as opposed to what I’m doing here in Portland.”

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Embiid offered his two cents on Thybulle’s framing of the situation with the Blazers compared to with the Sixers.

On a night that began with a larger spotlight than usual on Thybulle, the MVP contender big man had the last word.

“I talked to him after the trade,” Embiid said postgame. “Like I said, I loved him when he was here. I told him I kind of was unhappy with some of the comments that were made lately. But it’s whatever. It’s hard; playing in Philly is not easy.

“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. Every year you’re expected to win. It doesn’t even matter if they believe you have a good team or a good enough team to win a championship. That’s still the expectation. And that’s why there’s not a lot of people that can play here and survive here.

“Some guys have different mindsets. For some guys it’s all about winning, and for some guys it’s all about just playing basketball. But like I said, he was great when we had him here. I wish him well. I still believe that he has a lot of potential. It’s all about him putting the work in, especially shooting. Defensively, he’s a monster.”

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