Snapshots: Sixers dominate Clippers from start to finish

The Sixers blasted the Clippers in the first quarter and never looked back, surging to a 122-97 win behind big games from James Harden and Joel Embiid.

Here is what I saw.


• James Harden’s first half is the kind of thing that many people have been waiting for since his arrival in Philadelphia. Yes, it always helps when a few three step back drops, but it took a little while for this jumper to kick in in the first place. To get to this moment, Harden beat the Clippers the old-fashioned way, bullying his way to the basket and chasing more of his own offense instead of trying to play point guard all the time.

As brilliant as Harden is as a passer, it’s his all-around scoring that the Sixers will really need when things get tight and rotations get shorter in the playoffs. Concerns about his brilliance faded Friday night, with Harden finding the edge and putting the Clippers in dead-end territory by doing his best to get to the edge. There were fewer European stages and a lot more games where Harden saw space and tried to get through it immediately, which would end up paying off for Philadelphia.

Obviously, his passing is no less precious on a night where the shooting is going on, and it’s amazing to see the impact Harden has on a guy like Joel Embiid. There were times in this game when the Sixers (rightly) ran through Embiid and found themselves empty, with the big man struggling to find range at times. Without a guy like Harden, the old Sixers should have kept going back to the pit and hoping Embiid could dribble and shoot their way out. This group can put him in the pick-and-roll, take him down and trust Harden to find him, which he did for a few easy buckets in the win over the Clippers.

The messages from Embiid, Doc Rivers and the rest of this group have been clear – they want to see Harden pursue his own look more than he has. Maybe this game was as simple as the penetrating message and Harden didn’t care so much about making everyone better. He has a feel for that group and that attack now, and he’s able to switch to play mode when needed.

Beating this version of the Clippers is obviously not a monumental achievement, as they are a very different outfit with even one from Paul George or Kawhi Leonard available. But no one should watch an elite performance from James Harden and take it for granted right now.

(An additional note on Harden’s night and his late game – while he may be as lazy in transition as the rest of this group, the defensive effort since he started dressing for Philadelphia has been way better than expected. He rises to the challenge when guys try to attack him in one-on-one situations, and he’s been saved away from the game more often than not, which is the biggest battle for him historically. I just liked the fire I saw from him on Friday night, and hope to see more of this Harden in the coming weeks.)

• The fact that Embiid is able to just play decently and rack up something like 17 points and seven rebounds in one half shows how far he’s come on the offensive end and in many ways reflects his improved physical condition. He can win early in the offense by running the ground or sealing a smaller defender, he can win late in the clock with a shot, and he can win in the middle of a possession by teaming up with the one from Harden or Tyrese Maxey downhill. There are no definitive answers for Embiid, who even took on the responsibility of playing double teams.

The defensive end is where you could argue they need him the most these days, and the team’s performance is a good reflection of his efforts there. Attention to detail and effort were both at a much higher level for the Sixers in this game, after a performance against the Lakers where they essentially went through four basketball quarters. Embiid, despite committing a foul in the first 40 seconds of the game, did a great job playing smart physical defense inside, confident his size and positioning would win the day instead of risking a foul for the sake of preventing only two points. And his recovery speed when locked is special, with Embiid able to cross the lane and prevent would-be finishers from even sniffing the rim.

I didn’t necessarily like Embiid’s approach to this game on offense, where he dawdled a lot and played a little too much hero ball throughout the first half. Embiid has the skills and the resume to justify playing this way, and it’s not like the Sixers suffered against the Clippers. But just as Harden would be expected to step aside and let him cook if he was the guy on a radiator, he probably could have set the track for his teammate during one of his best scoring performances in a Sixers uniform.

(Despite going with a second unit led by Maxey/Harris in the first half, Rivers came back to a lag that kept either Embiid or Harden grounded at all times in the second half, and maybe that was partly to make sure both guys had time to run the show themselves, as well as acknowledging how badly the bench minutes went in the first half I don’t think they can go wrong here, and I liked seeing Rivers switch things up a bit in one game.)

Of course, all of those first-half decisions ended up seeming justified when Embiid caught fire in the third quarter, dealing another blow to the Clippers with his inside-out play. The trips to the line continued, and a pair of highlight threes was the best thing of either team’s third quarter, with Embiid hitting a sidestep three on a flow from Harden before hitting a deep, late three late in the period, racing the plane across the ground to celebrate the moment. Few greats make moves like this:

All the issues they have with every guy wanting to cook in isolation is a good deal because they have two of the most dominant individual players in the league. Embiid spent a lot of time reaching and attacking around the rim, and he was honestly unhappy not to see a few of his more shots go down close. With their top two players at this level, the Sixers will have a decent shot at qualifying for the upcoming Eastern Conference No. pending clashes. .

• I really like the way Tobias Harris is playing at the moment, whether his shots fall or not. It helps that Harden makes a precise effort to get the ball back to Harris right in his hands with room to shoot, but we’ve seen Harris get psyched out of a lot of open looks throughout his Sixers tenure. He’s riding them with this group now, and he’s still getting a smaller regimen of clearances and post-ups to take advantage of games favorable to him near the basket.

Between Embiid and Harden, it seems like they have a good idea of ​​when and how to involve Harris without straying from what works. Harris was able to bully poor Reggie Jackson a few times in this one, and there was no hesitation in giving him the ball when he has a guard on him in a place like this. It’s that kind of understanding that leads to broader buy-in, the kind of thing that makes it easier for you to go up to Harris and tell him to shoot the goddamn ball if the opportunity to catch and shoot is the.

Calm and steady is all they need from him.

• Philadelphia having a good defensive game often depends on whether Matisse Thybulle is playable or not. He was way beyond that on Friday night in Los Angeles, playing disruptive defense to open up play and finding pockets of space as an off-ball player at the other end. Doc Rivers said recently (and I agree with him) that it doesn’t really change the offense when Thybulle shoots because teams are going to keep ignoring him unless his numbers improve over time. It’s everywhere else that really counts, and he’s starting to fit in with that band.

For once he was able to avoid being tagged with the ‘stupid fouls’ tag thanks to a clever challenge from his head coach, the one who saved the Sixers’ fourth foul Thybulle, wiped three free throws from the board and earned Philly possession. downright. Probably the biggest challenge Rivers has had since they instituted the rule.

• I don’t care if it happened in explosive minutes when the game was out of reach, Danny Green seeing a few shots fall is good for him and this group. If he can pile on a few by the end of the year — and Philadelphia has a soft-close schedule to get there — they just might get a playoff boost from him.

• Georges Niang is the king of the lobed entry at Embiid. The conversion rate is absolutely through the roof.

• The Sixers are not without their problems, but their starting XI continue to beat teams when they share the floor. This bodes well for the games that count in April, May and June.

The bad

• Tyrese Maxey is allowed to have a bad game once in a while, and this one definitely qualifies, with the second-year guard spitting for most of it. Not much to analyze here, his touch was just wide, including on a move where he sent Robert Covington almost out of sight before firing a shot from about eight feet.

Of course, he still managed to hit a few threes in the second half and ultimately made it a respectable night in the scoring box, because that’s the kind of season he’s had.

• I think James Harden doesn’t like Joel Embiid’s tendency to pick up the ball in transition. I tend to agree with him that the big man needs to cut him because that’s no longer a necessity with the Harden/Maxey backcourt in place. Run the floor, and I bet you’ll have more success as an off-ball guy, big guy.

The ugly one

• I might as well rename this section after DeAndre Jordan. Isaiah Hartenstein made it look like Frankenstein for most of the minutes they shared the floor, appearing on the offensive glass and passing the older player in transition for easy points. Jordan does nothing to make up for his defensive incompetence on the other end, so I’ll say again that it’s insane that he’s basically just a guaranteed rotation pick every night. Not even making the guy compete for that spot is unbelievable.

That says more about Doc Rivers than Jordan. By all accounts, Jordan is a good teammate and someone people like to have in the locker room. There’s just one reason (and really many reasons) he was available for nothing when a bad Lakers team let him go. If he couldn’t do it for one of the worst LeBron teams of all time, he won’t do it for a team that aspires to the title. Please look at someone else, even if it’s Paul Millsap.

My guy Josh Lloyd has a simple solution:

I think he’s onto something!

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