3 Observations After Harden Leads Sixers to Blowout Win Over Clippers

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers used a dominant performance from James Harden to get an easy win over the Los Angeles Clippers, 122-97, on Friday night in Los Angeles. Harden finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in what was one of his better performances in a Sixers uniform.

Joel Embiid added in 27 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-19 shooting from the field. All Sixers starters scored in double-figures.

The Clippers were without six players, including Kawhi Leonard (right knee ACL recovery), Paul George (right elbow UCL tear) and Norman Powell (left foot fracture).

The win moved the Sixers into second place in the Eastern Conference, just a half game behind the slumping Miami Heat. Here are three observations from the team's easy win over the Clippers:

Harden plays with more bounce, aggressiveness

Harden, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury earlier this season, got off to an aggressive start. He knocked down his first shot, a step-back three, and was active defensively. He scored 10 points, including going 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter alone.

The Sixers fell behind 5-0 early but used smothering defense and Harden's aggressive effort to power them to a 21-2 run to take early control of the game. Harden helped begin the run by blocking a shot, knocking down a three, getting a steal and dishing out an alley-oop to Matisse Thybulle all in a 30-second stretch early in the first quarter.

This was arguably the best Harden has looked in a Sixers uniform. He got back to playing with his usual level of swagger and did a great job controlling the game throughout. He was hitting threes at will, getting to the free-throw line and playing with a bounce and explosiveness not seen since his first five games in a Sixers uniform. He went into halftime already with a double-double, 25 points and 11 rebounds. It was the most points he has scored in a half since joining the Sixers.

He turned his focus towards spreading the ball around early in the second half as he made sure to get others involved in the offense. He would go on to score just four points in the second half, although he did not play much of the fourth quarter because the Sixers had the game in hand.

Harden playing aggressively is a positive sign for the Sixers. He lacked explosiveness and has been in a shooting slump over his last eight games. He recovered his stroke from three-point range against the Clippers, knocking down four of his nine attempts from beyond the arc. The Sixers will need the version of Harden they received his first five games with the team, when he nearly averaged a triple-double and was a dominant presence offensively, in order to effectively reach their ceiling and make a deep playoff run this season.

Embiid had a quiet first few minutes before getting into rhythm. He hit a couple mid-range pull-ups and started getting to the free-throw line at will. He terrorized Clippers' big man Ivica Zubac in their first matchup earlier this season, scoring 40 points and grabbing 13 rebounds back on Jan. 21. Despite having a relatively inefficient shooting night, Embiid still managed to put his imprint on the game by drawing fouls and playing solid defense. He, at multiple points throughout the game, was receiving MVP chants from what was a very heavy Philadelphia presence in the crowd despite the game being in Los Angeles.

Bench minutes continue to be an adventure

The Sixers' bench has been a problem for much of the season, prompting head coach Doc Rivers to recently begin experimenting with different adjustments to the team's rotations.

Tyrese Maxey has at times had some success leading a bench lineup. However, he struggled to get anything going offensively for much of the contest. The Maxey-led bench unit struggled early in the second quarter, with the Clippers cutting the Sixers' lead from 19 down to 12.

Maxey began to heat up late in the third quarter, knocking down a three and making a nice contested shot at the rim. He would go on to finish the game with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field. He did contribute defensively, recording two steals and two blocks.

Rivers mixed things up and found some success against the Clippers by mostly having either Embiid or Harden out on the floor at all times. The superstar duo carried things for the Sixers' offense, with practically any lineup without them on the floor against the Clippers not faring well.

DeAndre Jordan continued to receive the backup center minutes. He finished with nine rebounds, but he again struggled defensively and did not provide much overall outside of rebounding. Paul Reed played six minutes in garbage time and finished with eight points, two rebounds, three steals and a block. He hustles on every play and should really be receiving some more consideration for the minutes at backup center (if only Rivers would trust a non-veteran with those minutes).

The Sixers' bench received some extra minutes in the fourth quarter, with the starters receiving extra rest the old fashioned way after building up a 23-point lead with eight minutes remaining. Unlike at other points throughout the season, the bench was able to handle the garbage time minutes and control the team's lead while finishing out the game.

It was odd to see Furkan Korkmaz, who had been heating up the past two games, not see much time on the floor. He finished with three points in 11 minutes, with most of those minutes coming in garbage time.

Sixers played lockdown defense

The Sixers, from the opening few minutes on, made everything difficult for the Clippers' offense. Harden and Thybulle both recorded steals within the first four minutes of the game. The Sixers finished with 12 steals as a team, with each of the starters tallying at least one steal.

Nothing came easy for the Clippers, who shot 40 percent from the field (the numbers were padded in garbage time in the fourth quarter). Thybulle roamed all over the place, finishing with three steals in addition to his 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. He did a great job defending Reggie Jackson, sticking to him like glue early on and holding him to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

The Sixers took advantage of their ability to play the passing lanes, getting out in transition and scoring 23 points off turnovers. In a rare occurrence this season, the Sixers easily won the battle on the glass. They out-rebounded the Clippers 52-39.

When things are clicking for the Sixers like they were against the Clippers, they are a major threat to make a deep playoff run. The next two games, a road matchup with the Phoenix Suns and a home matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, will be big tests for the Sixers before their schedule softens up to end the regular season.

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