Paul George continued his streak of 30-plus-point games (5), pouring in 37 on Friday. But, despite his hot shooting, it was Marcus Morris Sr. who found himself in position to take the game into overtime with a three. With just under 10 seconds remaining, Morris Sr. caught the ball at the top of the key, pump faked and launched an off-balance, contested three with 5.8 seconds on the clock. The Sixers (39-17) corralled the rebound and time expired as the Clippers (39-19) fell, 106-103, after fighting back from an early 17-point deficit.
The Clippers looked outclassed early. The Sixers raced out to a 20-3 lead in the game’s first four minutes on the back of eight early points from MVP candidate Joel Embiid. But L.A. settled in and battled back, answering the Sixers’ early push with a 8-1 run of their own. Paul George — who played the entirety of the first quarter and a game-high 39 minutes, despite missing Friday’s shootaround due to illness — scored 10 first-quarter points, including a pair of and-one’s. George’s offensive output saved the Clippers from what could have been an ugly deficit early. The Clippers trailed 31-20 after one.
The Sixers’ defensive trio of Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green on the perimeter made life tough on George, Morris Sr. and others. The Clippers threw up tough shots, cutting into the lead on several occasions, only to lose momentum minutes later. The Clippers scored just 47 points in the first half — tied for their fourth-fewest on the year — as they trailed by 12 entering the locker room. L.A. was pummeled on the boards, surrendering a minus-12 rebounding margin. George ended the half with 17 points (6-for-15) while Rajon Rondo (10) and Patrick Patterson (8) provided a boost off the bench. Second chance points proved to be the difference for the Sixers.
L.A. drilled six threes in the third quarter, led by a trio from George who poured in 15 points on 6-for-7 from the field in the quarter and the Clippers turned a 12-point deficit into four with a 30-point quarter. Despite frantic attempts to front Embiid (36, 16-for-18 from the line) in the post, he continued his dominance at the elbow, setting up camp at the free-throw line.
Patterson, who finished with a season-high 18, hit five threes, one of which gave the Clippers their first lead of the evening, 91-90, with 7:26 remaining in the fourth. The Sixers regained control with a 12-4 run in the game’s closing minutes, but L.A. had one spurt left. An inbounds lob to Morris Sr. and a Reggie Jackson triple brought the game within a single point in the final 20 seconds, before a pair of free throws from Green and a missed three from Morris Sr. shut the door on the Clippers’ league-leading win streak.
Rondo’s Wizardry: In the Clippers’ first loss since acquiring Rondo, he notched a game-high 8 assists. But really, he could have had a handful more. Much like he’s done for the last 15 years, the guard routinely found teammates in space. Laser-like off-handed passes; well-timed bounce passes; the late-game inbounds lob to Morris; Rondo’s passing was a much-needed treat on a night when L.A. came up short.
PatPat Catches Fire: Just add water. In a game where no Clipper outside of George scored in the 20’s, Patterson’s 18 points and five triples, several of which broke ties down the stretch, were crucial. His perimeter marksmanship was a large contributor to the team’s scorching three-point shooting (19-for-39).
Small-Ball Down the Stretch: In the wake of the injured Serge Ibaka, Ivica Zubac has taken command down low for L.A. But, after playing at least 23 minutes per game over his last nine, the center saw just 16 minutes of run vs. the Sixers. Zubac amassed just three fouls but struggled to slow Embiid leading Clippers head coach Ty Lue to roll out a small-ball lineup through much of the second half. The lineup of Jackson, Rondo, George, Nicolas Batum and Morris Sr. found success in the game’s final minutes.
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