Game Recap | Strong Finish Leads to Season Sweep of Clippers
It was crunch time, a crossroads that demanded the 76ers dig deep.
After delivering yet another dominant first-half performance, the team saw its once sizable lead evaporate, all while having to navigate a pivotal stretch without their All-Star.
But the Sixers, focused all season long on closing out games, found the right formula, and behind Saturday’s strong finishing kick, pushed past the LA Clippers, 112-98.
On the heels of LA drawing within two points, 95-93, with six minutes to go in regulation, the Sixers responded with a determined, decisive run, outscoring the Clippers 17-5 the rest of the way.
“I give our defense a lot of credit in that stretch,” said Brett Brown.
A T.J. McConnell jumper jump-started the surge. Then, following a timeout, Joel Embiid returned the floor after a brief trip to the locker room, which, naturally, added extra energy to the mix.
From there, the Sixers’ defense took over. Ben Simmons came up with a steal that led to a runout dunk from Robert Covington. A stop on LA’s ensuing possession set the Sixers up for a clutch 3-pointer from JJ Redick, and all of a sudden, momentum was back in their favor.
Redick put any doubts about Saturday’s outcome to rest with another triple that made it a 108-96 game with 30 seconds to go.
“That last 3-pointer, I emphasized that a little bit, since that was ball game,” Redick said, when asked about hitting a big shot against his former squad. “That felt good.”
With Saturday’s victory, the Sixers moved to 3-0 on their season-high tying five-game homestand. They’ve also now won nine straight appearances in South Philadelphia, and swept their season series against the Clippers for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign.
Want one more nugget about the implications of Saturday’s triumph? It ensured the Sixers would carry a winning record into the All-Star break of an 82-game season for the first time in nine years.
“It got pretty close towards the end,” said Embiid, “but we took the advantage back.”
Embiid paced all players Saturday with 29 points (9-23 fg). He added a Sixers-best 16 rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
T.J. McConnell provided critical contributions off the bench, manufacturing 17 points (6-7 fg, 3-3 3fg) and 8 assists. Ben Simmons provided steady point man play as well, with 14 points (7-13 fg), 5 boards, and 10 dimes.
Redick ended the evening with 17 points (6-12 fg), and converted 5 of 10 3-pointers against his old squad.
Former Sixer Lou Williams’ 23 points was the top mark for the Clippers.
McConnell’s Big Night
On a night Brett Brown felt the Sixers’ reserve unit was worthy of getting lots of love, T.J. McConnell carried the banner for the bench. Behind opportunistic, lights-out 3-point shooting, the back-up point guard netted 17 points, scoring in double-figures for the first time in seven games.
From a facilitating standpoint, McConnell was fantastic. His 8 assists matched the third-highest total of his career. Half of those helpers came in Saturday’s opening quarter, and he had added two more by intermission.
Oh, and for the evening, McConnell didn’t commit a single turnover, either.
“Every game, we have a [post-game locker room] bell ringer, and he rang the bell tonight,” Brown said.
Particularly impressive about McConnell’s performance Saturday was his 3-point shooting. Three times, the LA Clippers gave him wide open looks from the strong side corner. All three times, McConnell didn’t miss.
After going 3 for 3 from the outside, McConnell is now 23 for 45 from 3-point territory on the season. He shot 20.0 percent from beyond (11-55) last year, and 34.8 percent as a rookie (31-89).
JJ Redick, one of the game’s most dangerous 3-point threats, said Saturday he often tells McConnell (tongue-in-cheek?) his corner three is like a lay-up. Against the Clippers, that definitely seemed to be the case.
McConnell attributed his success to LA’s defense over-helping on the Sixers’ bigs.
“We were able to kick it out, swing it one more, and I just shot it and knocked it down.”
From the opposite sideline, Doc Rivers was admiring McConnell’s outing.
“When you talk about him, guys say, ‘He’s not that good,’” the Clippers head coach said. “He’s really good. He makes plays, he’s a great team player. He’s one of those guys everybody wants on their team because when he comes in, he changes the flow of the game.
Justin Anderson was another member of the Sixers’ second-string group to enjoy a productive contest. He posted 12 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes.
Second Back-to-Back? Check
For the second time in as many weekends, Joel Embiid played twice in as many nights. The two back-to-back are the only ones he’s ever completed in his career.
The big man logged just 24 minutes of action in Friday’s 100-82 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, then turned Saturday around for a 34 minute outing versus the LA Clippers. He acknowledged that fatigue became a factor against the Clippers.
“I was trying to reach for the ball and I was getting tired, especially in the fourth quarter,” Embiid said.
Still, he battled on.
Following a short stint in the locker room midway through the fourth, Embiid returned, and his presence, per usual, made a difference. He converted 3 of 4 free throw attempts in the final two minutes of play, secured an important defensive rebound, and assisted on a JJ Reidck 3-pointer that iced the win.
“Back-to-back nights are tough, but that’s basketball,” said the All-Star.
So Far, So Good
At the start of the week, before their homestand got underway, the Sixers spoke openly about the importance of taking advantage of such a favorable break in the schedule in advance of the All-Star Game.
Three games in, the results have been pretty good, all wins of a fairly convincing variety.
JJ Redick has been happy to see the Sixers turn focus into action.
“It’s huge for us,” he said Saturday. “It’s something we talked about at the beginning of the week. To get these three wins were big, and obviously, the last two against two Western Conference teams that are in the playoff race playing for something was really impressive.”
The Sixers’ homestand concludes with games against the New York Knicks and Miami Heat on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
“We still have to take care of business,” said Redick. “We talked about getting all five of these, and we’ve got two more.”
Anticipation. Hops. Length. Speed. Hustle. Explosiveness. Power. Touch. Pick any flavor you’d like.
Ben Simmons showcases them all on this impressive two-way sequence from Saturday’s third quarter.
H U S T L E pic.twitter.com/o6Zls4xjUO
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 11, 2018
It might’ve taken about four months, but for the first time in the regular season, the Sixers will host the New York Knicks for a home game. Monday’s meeting between the Atlantic Division foes will be the first since their long-standing rivalry was thrust into the national spotlight on Christmas Day, a game the Sixers won, 105-98. New York has had it rough lately, riding five straight losses as of Saturday. Last Tuesday, All-Star big man Kristaps Porzingis was ruled out for the rest of the year, due to a left knee ACL tear.