The crowd was clearly revved up to start this one, and reached a jolt of adrenaline shortly into the game, when Joel Embiid got an and-one, smiled, and waved to the crowd. The Sixers had a lot to be happy about early. While their own offense looked smoother than it has lately due to Brett Brown’s adjustment to the starting lineup, their defense was as potent as ever, refusing to let the Clippers get any easy looks. The Clippers were rattled by the Sixers’ size and length, and failed to get much movement on or off the ball. Despite this, their overall play and effort was sharp, and they hung close entering the second period.
The second quarter began even worse for the Clippers. The second unit, which has been shaky for weeks, looked even more overwhelmed by the Sixers’ defense than the starters had, and Joel Embiid proved far too much for Montrezl Harrell. In a surprising (but welcome) move, Doc Rivers brought Ivica Zubac back into the game early, and order was restored. In fact, behind Zu’s defense and some hot shooting from Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers got all the way back to a tie going into halftime.
Unfortunately, while the Clippers were able to tighten up their defense, their offense did not regain the free-flowing nature it had taken during their late 2nd quarter run. Instead, it devolved once more into isolations, with Paul George in particular struggling to get shots to drop and building frustration at the lack of foul calls. The Clippers kept the Sixers within arms reach, but were never able to put forth a real run of their own. This same seesaw battle continued into the 4th quarter. Lou Williams briefly got cooking at the start of the quarter, while George finally got to the foul line, but the two scorers misfired after that spurt, and the Sixers moved back ahead. Every time the Clippers made a push, the Sixers responded. They were led defensively by Ben Simmons, who played a masterful game on both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, and on offense by Josh Richardson, who torched a bevy of Clippers’ defenders in route to a 13-point 4th quarter. The Clippers’ offense continued to sputter, and even though there was time to make a push, it clearly wasn’t going to happen. In the end, the Clippers lost 110-103 in a hard-fought but decisive defeat.
Kawhi Spectacular: While he stumbled a bit down the stretch, Kawhi Leonard was fantastic all night long. He scored 30 points on 23 shots, dished out 9 assists to 4 turnovers, and played strong defense. He was also the only Clippers player who was consistently able to create semi-open looks, utilizing his strength to make space and shoot over defenders. Ben Simmons did a good job on him early, but Kawhi was able to get his no matter who was on him, which has been the case all year. As good as his defense was early in his career, his offense is far better now, and tonight was a good demonstration as to why. His improved passing was also crucial, and he regularly operated a step ahead of the defense. It was a superstar performance. Just too bad it was on a losing effort.
Lou and PG Cold: Basketball is a simple sport. If you score a lot of baskets, you’re probably going to win. If you don’t, you’re probably going to lose. Tonight, the Clippers’ second- and third-best bucket-getters shot 8-30 from the field and 5-8 from the free throw line. Really, in most ways, that’s all there was to this game. Lou and PG were cold, they didn’t get to the free throw line, and missed shots that they’d normally make. If even four of those looks go down, this is a different game. Lou, in particular, was able to create at least decent shots for himself – they just missed. George was a bit more puzzled by the Sixers’ defense, especially Simmons, and got in his own head a bit. Cold nights are a fact of life in the NBA, but two from key players on the same night usually means doom.
Marcus Morris Pro and Cons: This was a pretty typical Marcus Morris game. He made some tough shots, took some awful, contested attempts, and tried starting a fight with Joel Embiid. As per usual with Morris, there was a mix of both good and bad stirred into the pot. On the good: he shot 3-6 from three, more makes and attempts than Moe Harkless would see over multiple games. He also played hard, and gave some tough fouls. For the bad: he took some ridiculously bone-headed shots, isolating on Al Horford several times to take contested midrange jumpers early in the shot clock. There was a particularly infuriating attempt coming in the late 4th quarter with the Clips trying to mount a comeback that is unfortunately something we will probably see a lot over the coming months. At age 30, and with a decade in the NBA, Morris is who he is. He can make tough shots, and is a dangerous weapon when hot, but he will also make plenty of frustrating decisions on both ends of the court.
Shamet Remains Hot: Landry Shamet has surged in 2020, and continued on his streak tonight, as he shot 7-11 from the field and 5-9 from three. The Clippers look much more potent offensively when he’s in the game, and it’s a bit puzzling why he didn’t start the game on the court. He’s not as good a ball-handler or playmaker as Lou Williams, but with Kawhi and PG handling the ball so much anyway, that’s not as important. Landry got 36 minutes, which is great, but it’s possible he could have had even more playing time (or had it in better stretches) to help keep the Clippers’ offense juiced. Nonetheless, Shamet turning the corner in recent weeks has been a great, great occurrence.