On Saturday night, a national audience got to witness what fans in Philadelphia see several times a week: Matisse Thybulle's elite perimeter defense. Thybulle, who was named to the All-Defensive Second Team last year in his second NBA season, was tasked with slowing Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry when the 76ers hosted the Warriors, and he proved to be up to the challenge in Philly's 102-93 victory.
Curry is arguably the toughest player in the league to guard, but Thybulle did as good a job as anyone has done this season, as he consistently minimized Curry's airspace and just generally made things difficult for the two-time MVP. Over the course of the contest, Thybulle held Curry to 2 of 13 shooting from the floor as the primary defender, including holding him to just 1 of 9 from beyond the arc. In all, Curry shot just 6 of 20 against the Sixers -- well below his season average.
Curry entered the evening 10 3-pointers's away from passing Ray Allen for the NBA's all-time career record, but he connected on just three of his 14 attempts on Saturday. Two of those attempts were blocked by Thybulle. He got one in the first half:
And another in the second half:
Thybulle made some history in the process by becoming the first player to block multiple Curry 3-point attempts in the same game.
Matisse Thybulle held Stephen Curry to 2-of-13 shooting as the primary defender on Saturday, including 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 12, 2021
Thybulle also became the first player to block multiple 3-point attempts by Curry in a single game. pic.twitter.com/SCbXmV2y3S
Even when he didn't actually block his shot, Thybulle made Curry work for every single attempt. Watch him hound Curry into a tough, contested shot early in the first quarter:
Plays like that don't show up on a stat sheet, but they are extremely impactful nonetheless. Curry finished the game with just 18 points (well below his season average of 27), and the fact that the Sixers were able to limit his production is one of the main reasons that they were able to pull out a win -- their most impressive of the season given that the Warriors entered the evening with the league's best record. The Sixers have had an up-and-down season so far, but that's the type of win they can build on.
After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr credited Thybulle for making life difficult for his star guard. "I give Thybulle credit," Kerr said, via ESPN. "I thought he was fantastic defensively. He's a rare combination of length and athleticism and brains and he did as good a job on Steph as anybody I've seen in a long time."
Joel Embiid, who was also integral to Philadelphia's success on Saturday night (26 points. 9 rebounds, 4 assists) had some high praise for his teammate after the game. "He was amazing," Embiid said of Thybulle. "I've been saying it since he got here. He's probably the best perimeter defender in the league and I think he has a shot to win the Defensive Player of the Year."
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges might have something to say when it comes to being the best perimeter defender, and there's another guy on the Sixers that isn't currently playing who is also pretty good at perimeter defense. But Thybulle is certainly in the conversation, as he's one of the few players in the league that can impact the game in such an enormous way on that end of the floor. This isn't the first time this season that I've written about Thybulle's defense swinging a game, and it likely won't be the last.
Unfortunately for other defenders in the league hoping to replicate his success against Curry, Thybulle doesn't have any secrets to share.
"There's no secrets to guarding people like that," Thybulle said. "You've got to play really hard. You've got to be willing to get scored on. He's going to make some spectacular plays and you have to be able to play through that and just trying to be a consistent force and not let his success take you on a roller coaster."