WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kelly Oubre Jr. is officially back for the Philadelphia 76ers. The high-flying forward made his return after missing 11 games and played a key part in a 131-126 win over the Washington Wizards.
Oubre not only played significant minutes but played well in crunch time with the Sixers clinging to a lead. He notched 12 points on 5-8 shooting. His hustle plays and springy athleticism were very important for Philly as it survived a poor effort to hang on for the win with Joel Embiid and his 50 points leading the way.
“It felt good, man. I was really excited,” Oubre said. “I had to control my emotions a little bit, just kind of started to run through a wall today. But man, I was really excited to get back out there with the guys — and definitely win. It made it better.”
For Oubre, being back around his teammates was monumental. He played like someone who missed the game a lot after working through a long, slow-and-steady recovery process.
“I felt good. I think my adrenaline kind of took over so I might feel something later when I go to sleep, but I felt really good, man,” he said. “My wind was up. Shoutout to the team and the medical staff for all the running we did to stay ready and prepare. I just wanna shout out to everybody here and it felt good.”
Oubre being struck by a car kept him off the court for a while and forced him to deal with conspiracies spreading online without the biggest outlet in his life. He spoke fondly about how much the game means to him after a practice leading up to the game. His smile beamed as he spoke to reporters after the game, conveying the joy he feels to be back.
Sixers head coach Nick Nurse was ready to get him right back in there but knew he had to ease him in. Still, he let Oubre play for most of the second half because of how much he is capable of doing (and was doing) for the team.
“You know, I was worried about him a little bit. I didn't think he was kind of in the sync or in rhythm. I was worried about him at the half, about what kind of rotation I was gonna use with him in the second half,” Nurse said. “But his second half was amazing. I thought he was kind of the spark…He gets to the basket. He offensive rebounds. He's out there really, really showing and playing with his athleticism. I thought he was a really key contributor off the bench tonight.”
Kelly Oubre Jr. Highlights I 12 points in 19 minutes I Sixers vs Wizards
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see the perfect fit between Oubre and the Sixers, Oubre came up big in the 4th quarter when he put up 10 points on 4/5 from the field#Sixers #HereTheyCome #KellyOubreJr pic.twitter.com/8gzySoLQBj
— MRCROCKPOT (@mrcrockpot) December 7, 2023
In Oubre's first stint, the feel-out period led to just a few plays here and there, namely a dunk off of a baseline cut. He played less than his usual stint before playing a long stint in the second half that spawned nearly 15 minutes. Getting that extended run on the court helped unlock things for him. His 10 fourth-quarter points were second only to Embiid's 11.
“The key word is rhythm. I was feeling a good rhythm,” Oubre said. “I was able to catch the pace of the guys and just not look back after that. This game is about rhythm. This game is about fluid motion and everybody kind of being tied together. I think that in the fourth we kind of found our groove a little bit and it showed.”
Oubre said that the Sixers didn’t notify him of any limitations on his minutes and acknowledged that he didn’t want to “look over my shoulder” to see when he might be coming out. Nurse and the Sixers had a plan for Oubre, which was for shorter stints in a spot in the bench rotation. Perhaps it was a calculated decision not to tell Oubre too much about how he would be implemented so that he could focus on just playing. If so, it was a decision that paid off immensely.
The return to the court following the most traumatic injury in Oubre's basketball career came in the arena he called his first NBA home. Being in Washington did provide Oubre with the motivation to play well but not one he wanted to tap into that much.
“I actually have like a lot of anxiety playing here 'cause like, I usually want to destroy them and obviously this being my first game back, it wasn't a destroyer night,” Oubre said. “So I just kind of played to that hand and just let the game come to me, man, and just play it smooth.”
Play it smooth, he did. The Sixers getting Oubre back so quickly after he got hit by a car is a tremendous development for a team that needed a bit of a boost. He should only look better and better as he gets reacclimated to the game.
“I thought he looked fine,” Embiid said of Oubre. “He let the game come to him. He didn't force anything. You could tell he missed some time but he's gonna be fine.”