Tonight marked the last night before the all-star break. Play will resume next Thursday as the stretch run for playoff positing begins. The Sixers had a true test in the Clippers who came into the Wells Fargo Center just a half-game out of second place in the West. There was a bit of a playoff-type atmosphere, as fans who follow the team close knew this was more than just one of eighty-two.
The first thing I noticed looking at the Clippers was the presence of Marcus Morris. The 6-9 forward was available at the deadline, and the Clippers acquired him to add some mass around Kawai and Paul George.
Halfway through the 1st quarter, the Sixers trailed 11-10, and Joel Embiid got his 2nd foul. Horford entered for Embiid, and two possessions later, behind a three-pointer from Hofford and Tobias Harris, the Sixers held a 16-11 lead. Before Embiid’s exit, aside from a few nice dribble drives from Josh Richardson, the Sixers were strictly playing a two-man game on offense, with Embiid and Simmons exclusively monopolizing the offense. Neither Kormaz, who has averaged over 30 ppg the last two games nor Tobias Harris had touched the ball in the opening minutes. It was after Embiid’s exit that the ball was moved around to find the open man, and the spacing on the court much better. The first quarter ended with a thunderous dunk in the final minute by Tobias Harris, who finished the quarter with 11 points / 6 rebounds / 2 assists. Sixers 30 Clippers 22
The second quarter opened up with the Sixers attacking the offensive glass. They opened an early 12 point lead until two straight Kawai Leonard three-pointers quickly cut the lead to 6 with 8:47 remaining in the 2nd. Over the next 5 minutes, the Sixers went back to basically the 2 man offense, with Simmons and Embiid dominating the touches. The Clippers also were able to take the lead on some sharpshooting. Back and forth the final few minutes, and they went into the half tied at 54. Kawai Leonard led all scorers with 17 points, while Ben Simmons led the Sixers with 16.
The Sixers looked much more balanced to start the 3rd, and, when Ben Simmons hit a no-look lay-up, the Sixers has an 8 point lead with just over 8 minutes remaining in the 3rd. The rest of the quarter went back and forth, with Embiid and Simmons willing the Sixers to an 81-77 lead after three. Furkan Kormaz was utterly invisible on the offensive end; he seemed out of sync and partially phased out of the game plan. Hardly what one would think after back-to-back 30 point performances.
The 4th quarter atmosphere resembled a playoff intensity. It may have been the best 12 minutes the Sixers have put together all year. Huge contributions from Jason Richardson and Ben Simmons (who finished with a triple-double: 26 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). But the biggest factor was the big guy. Midway through the 4th, Embiid and Marcus Morris got into an altercation, which ended with Morris pushing Embiid with a two-hander. Both players received double technicals. But perhaps the biggest play of the night was when Embiid hustled back, sending a Morris shot flying into the night. At that point, he had his city back, and the Sixers made a massive statement with a 110-103 win heading into the all-star break. All of Philadelphia now wonders—what could this team be if they continue to play like that? One other observation—I love Al Hoffrd off the bench. Between Horford and Embiid constantly being on the court, they had both Clipper big men in foul trouble and rendered them literally ineffective. I hope this continues. Again the Sixers have life.