Anyone who chose to stay up for some late night Philadelphia 76ers basketball was well rewarded. Joel Embiid was dominant once again, leading the Sixers to a 120-110 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. The Sixers are now 3-0 thus far on their five-game West Coast road trip.
Embiid finished with 41 points on 12-of-22 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks. It was his eighth 40-point game of the season. Tobias Harris added in 20 points, six rebounds, six assists and a career-high-tying five steals. Tyrese Maxey contributed 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The Clippers, in their losing effort, were led by Kawhi Leonard. He finished with 27 points and four rebounds. Luke Kennard (right calf soreness) and John Wall (abdominal soreness) were both out for Los Angeles. Paul George (right hamstring soreness) returned after a five-game absence and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Sixers have won eight of their last 10 games and are 28-16 on the season. After the Brooklyn Nets lost to the San Antonio Spurs, the Sixers now sit in third place in the Eastern Conference. Their next matchup is against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night. Here are three observations from the win:
After a slow opening few minutes, both teams got into rhythm. It was not clear if either team was going to show up defensively. The Sixers built up a 19-15 lead midway through the opening quarter, largely due to a hot start from Embiid. He scored nine of the team’s first 19 points and was hitting on all cylinders. The big man knocked down a 3-pointer and was active on the glass, picking up a pair of offensive rebounds and put-backs. By the time he checked out of the game with 2:07 left in the opening quarter, he had scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds. The lone negative from his opening stint: The two turnovers he committed.
The Sixers had as good of an offensive quarter as possible. They shot 63.2% from the field in the first quarter, receiving contributions from all throughout the lineup. The 3-point jumper was falling and their ball movement was crisp. It looked like the Sixers were getting whatever they want offensively for large stretches of the first quarter.
Embiid subbed back into the game with 7:13 remaining in the second quarter and continued putting together a masterclass performance. He scored another 13 points in the second quarter, continuing to dominate regardless of what the Clippers threw at him. The pick-and-roll game between Embiid and James Harden resulted in a few buckets and some brilliant passes from Harden in transition. He knocked down his second 3-pointer of the game as the buzzer expired to end the first half. His impressive play in the first half extended over defensively as well with a scintillating block on a Norman Powell layup attempt.
hustle + muscle. 💪 pic.twitter.com/MZqHOuGj94— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 18, 2023
hustle + muscle. 💪 pic.twitter.com/MZqHOuGj94
Embiid slowed down a bit in the second half, with much of his production coming from the foul line. His uncanny ability to draw fouls makes him nearly impossible to defend. He shot 9-of-10 from the free-throw line in the second half.
The Sixers, for the second consecutive game, inserted De’Anthony Melton into the starting lineup and had Maxey come off the bench. This was likely done in an attempt to better match up defensively against the Clippers. Melton struggled with his defensive assignment, allowing George to score seven early points. The Sixers’ defensive rotations were out of sync and the Clippers took advantage to the tune of scoring 27 first-quarter points.
Maxey subbed in for Melton with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter. He had a quiet first few minutes before getting on the scoreboard with an and-one floater at the end of the quarter. Maxey, together with Shake Milton, did a solid job helming the second unit while Embiid and Harden were both off the floor. Milton has been quietly having a good season, excelling in his smaller role. He finished with four points, two assists and a steal in 16 minutes off the bench.
After struggling in the first quarter defensively, the Sixers picked things up in a big way in the second frame. They relentlessly attacked the basketball, forcing a myriad of Clippers turnovers. Harris kicked things off with a pair of steals in the first two minutes of the quarter. The Sixers recorded two blocks and five steals in the final 6:33 of the second quarter. They effectively turned their strong defense into points on the other end, going into halftime forcing 10 turnovers and scoring 15 points off those turnovers.
Harris was at the center of everything for the Sixers, putting together an incredible all-around performance. He contributed on both ends of the floor, playing efficient basketball offensively. He knocked down multiple tough contested mid-range jumpers and was not hesitant at all to pull the trigger from 3-point range.
More notable than his strong offensive performance was his impact defensively. He had active hands, playing a large role in the Sixers’ strong defense in the second quarter. Harris, along with P.J. Tucker, did an admirable job defending Leonard in the first half. They made it tough for him to get to his spots, although it was only a matter of time with a player as good as Leonard. Harris will never be an excellent defender, but he has taken some huge strides over the last few seasons. His defensive improvement is due in large part to effort and a desire to better fit into his role on the team.
The Sixers may have figured things out defensively in the second quarter, but the Clippers would have a response. Leonard, after being held relatively in check in the first half, got the hot hand. He scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the third quarter. The Clippers scored 37 points on 70% shooting in the third frame, all the while effectively making up the 11-point lead the Sixers had at the half. The Clippers took their first lead of the game, 79-78, on a Ivica Zubac hook shot with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter.
After cruising in the first half, things were beginning to look bleak for the Sixers. The offense completely stagnated for much of the third quarter and the Clippers were right back in the game. Harden was ice cold and the Sixers were in desperate need of some scoring production outside of Embiid and Harris. Harden finished the game with six points (1-of-6 shooting) to go with three rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a block.
Georges Niang was first to answer the call, draining a step-back 3-pointer to tie the game at 81-81 with 3:02 left in the third quarter. Just a few plays later, he knocked down another critical bomb from beyond the arc to make it 85-84 Clippers. Those pair of 3-pointers were crucial to helping the Sixers staunch the bleeding and stay in the game.
The game remained tight going into the fourth quarter, with the Sixers holding a 90-89 lead. Maxey then proceeded to break the game open. He drilled a trio of 3-pointers in the opening 2:32 of the quarter. Two of the 3-pointers came courtesy of Maxey pulling up around the drop coverage the Clippers were attempting to utilize against the pick-and-roll. The Sixers went from being up just one to being up 99-93 with 9:28 remaining.
The Sixers sealed the game a few minutes later. Embiid found Niang for a quick-trigger 3-pointer and followed it up with a block on the other end of the floor. Harden grabbed the rebound and made a good outlet pass to Maxey for a fast-break layup. The Sixers’ lead ballooned up to 111-98 with 5:57 left in the action. The Clippers, who had gone ice cold in the final frame, were unable to make up any of the deficit. They emptied their bench with 3:16 remaining. The Sixers followed suit less than 30 seconds later.