Friday night was not a good night for the Philadelphia 76ers. They were up 24 against the Los Angeles Clippers midway through the third quarter, only to surrender the lead and lose 102-101. Many of the team's weaknesses were exposed against the Clippers, leading to this question: Should this loss be a sign of concern?,
It was not the first time this season alone the Sixers had a disappointing loss at home, with other examples coming on Dec. 23 in a 98-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and a 101-96 loss to the Miami Heat on Dec. 15. To lose to the Clippers, who were without All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, is inexcusable especially when the Sixers built up a 24-point lead at one point in the second half.
If the loss itself was not bad enough, head coach Doc Rivers imploded, similarly to the way his team just did on the court, when asked after the game about what role his coaching played in the loss.
"Would you ask Pop that question? No you wouldn't.
So don't ask me that question. I've earned that."
— Logan Reever (@loganreever) January 22, 2022
The question was a fair one, especially considering Rivers has a history of coaching teams who have blown leads, both in individual games and in entire playoff series, as Sixers fans witnessed last postseason. The loss to the Clippers worryingly brought back some deja vu from when the team collapsed in Game 5 of last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals series loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Even another MVP-level effort from Joel Embiid – who totaled 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists – was not enough to overcome the variety of issues this team has. The trio of Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey combined to score 79 of the team's 101 points against the Clippers. Furkan Korkmaz, Isaiah Joe and Georges Niang combined to shoot a terrible 6 of 22 from the field. NBA teams will not win consistently when they receive that level of production from the supporting cast.
Zone defense continues to crop up as a major issue for the Sixers. The Clippers mixed in zone defense throughout the night, and it once again gave the Sixers fits offensively. The Sixers need to play aggressively and push the ball into the paint early in the shot clock to attack the zone defense. Instead, as seen multiple times in the fourth quarter, they end up passing the ball side to side around the perimeter, achieving nothing but wasting the game away.
However, the Sixers were without four key contributors in their rotation last night (Seth Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green and Shake Milton). Under normal circumstances, the team would not have to rely on Korkmaz and Joe to provide what Curry and Thybulle or Green usually do. It is not shocking to see the team struggle to score the ball when they were without Curry, who plays an integral role in the offense. He averages 15.8 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Embiid is still playing like an MVP, averaging a ridiculous 32.5 points per game over his last 17 games. When Embiid plays, the Sixers have been a good team this season, carrying a 23-11 record compared to 3-8 in games Embiid has missed. Games like the one on Friday, when Embiid plays, have proven to be unusual this season.
Should the loss to the Clippers be a sign of concern? Mild concern is warranted. There are clear holes on the Sixers' roster, with a Ben-Simmons sized hole being the glaring one throughout this season. No matter how good Embiid plays, the supporting cast on this roster will sometimes let him down, which will tend to be the case when you have $30-plus million worth of the team's salary cap space sitting at home.
Until general manager Daryl Morey pulls the trigger on a Simmons trade, the Sixers will continue to be in need of a Robin to Embiid's Batman. Until then? Expect an occasional clunker or disappointing performance from this clearly flawed Sixers team.