Instant Observations: 76ers Lose Tight Game to Clippers in Harden’s Return to Philadelphia

Instant Observations: 76ers Lose Tight Game to Clippers in Harden’s Return to Philadelphia Mar 27, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) rebounds the ball against the LA Clippers during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After holding the lead for the majority of the contest, poor late-game execution cost the Philadelphia 76ers (39-34) the game. The Sixers lost a tight one 108-107 to the Los Angeles Clippers (45-27) on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tyrese Maxey finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, one steal and two blocks. Buddy Hield added 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting off the bench.

Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) remained out of the lineup for the Sixers. Head coach Nick Nurse told reporters before the game, via Derek Bodner of PHLY Sports, he thinks there is a “very good likelihood” Embiid will return at some point before the start of the postseason. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added in his report “it is not a question of if, but when” regarding Embiid getting back on the court this season. In other injury news, Nurse also said the team is hopeful both Covington and Melton will also be back before the end of the regular season.

James Harden returned to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded at the beginning of this season. He received some boos from the crowd both during player introductions and at times when he touched the ball throughout the game. Harden finished with 16 points, 14 assists and two steals. Paul George totaled 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Kawhi Leonard scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and recorded two steals.

The Sixers’ next contest is a road matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. Here are some instant observations from the close loss to the Clippers:


– Maxey got off to a slow start against the Clippers, but he quickly worked his way out of it. He used the pick-and-roll to get himself into a rhythm over the final few minutes of the first quarter. His first points of the game came with 4:07 left in the opening frame. After receiving a screen from Paul Reed, Maxey patiently waited until he had the space to drive to the basket. He then made a tough layup at the rim. A few possessions later, Maxey efficiently navigated another Reed screen. This time it resulted in a good pass to Reed and some free throws. Later on in the quarter, he turned a lost possession into a pair of free throws by flying around the screen and using a Euro step gather to draw a foul. Maxey’s ability to operate in the pick-and-roll has been one of the many things he has shown improvement on this season, his first as a full-time point guard.

The 23-year old also did an excellent job taking care of the basketball. The Clippers came into this game with an extremely aggressive defensive strategy against Maxey. The Clippers hedged and trapped him often up near mid-court in an attempt to force the ball out of his hands. Maxey efficiently handled those looks, finding the right balance between getting the ball out to an open teammate and looking to score whenever the opportunity presented itself.

With the game in the balance, Maxey turned on the jets as a scorer in the fourth quarter. As he has so often this season, Maxey carried the Sixers offense in the guts of the game. He scored at all three levels, including knocking down a deep 3-pointer. Ten of his points came in the final frame. However, the Clippers constant double teams against Maxey limited his impact in the final few minutes.

Mo Bamba’s play has taken a massive leap forward on both ends of the floor over the last few games. He is making timely rotations defensively while doing a good job defending around the rim. His highlight play of the night came when he met George at the rim and blocked his dunk attempt. Bamba’s improved play defensively is a key reason why the Sixers came into the game ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating (109.5) over the previous 10 games. In addition to his defense around the basket, Bamba has also made some strides as a rebounder. He gobbled up 11 rebounds against the Clippers, playing a large role in helping the Sixers win the rebounding battle

On the other end of the floor, Bamba had one of his best nights of the season. He scored double-digit points for the second time in the last four games. The Clippers came out of halftime in rhythm. They took their first lead of the game with 10:03 remaining in the third quarter. The Sixers responded with a 6-0 run, led by a tip-in and cutting layup by Bamba, forcing a Clippers timeout. He finished the game with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

– Coming off one of his worst shooting games of the season against the Sacramento Kings, Hield recovered and had a great game off the bench for the Sixers. He was having a quiet night until the final two minutes of the third quarter. Hield scored the Sixers’ last eight points of the third quarter on a pair of 3-pointers and a nice finish at the rim. His strong night continued late into the fourth quarter. The Sixers were down by one point with under 30 seconds left to play. Hield connected on a 3-pointer from multiple feet beyond the line. It was the signature moment of his brief Sixers tenure.

After struggling mightily in recent weeks, it was encouraging to see the shots start to fall again for Hield. If he can re-find his rhythm, the Sixers offense will be in much better shape heading into the postseason.


– The Sixers’ late-game execution on both ends of the floor left a lot to be desired. With the Clippers intent on forcing the ball out of Maxey’s hands, the Sixers needed someone else to step up. Unfortunately, nobody was up to the task. Tobias Harris, after scoring nine points in the first quarter, was a non-factor for the remainder of the game. Kelly Oubre Jr., whose play has been good of late, could not buy a bucket. With 5.1 seconds remaining and the Sixers down by one point, Oubre drove into the paint and failed to get a shot off before the time expired. There arguably was a foul on the play, but the referees did not call it.

After playing great defense for much of the night, the Sixers fell apart on that end of the floor in the final minutes of the game. Oubre, who was victimized by Harden multiple times throughout the night, committed an egregious foul on a Leonard drive in the final 20 seconds that cost the Sixers the game. If you are going to foul in that situation, then it needs to be hard enough to prevent the shot from going up. Instead, Oubre grazed Leonard’s shoulder and allowed him to get an and-one layup.

Nic Batum quietly had a strong night against the Clippers. He shot 3-of-6 from beyond the arc while also making multiple key plays defensively. However, he recklessly closed out on Leonard at the 3-point line on the aforementioned and-one layup.

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