Well, it was about time the Philadelphia 76ers’ defense hit a reality check. And it came Saturday against head coach Doc Rivers’ former team. The Los Angeles Clippers shot 52.9% from the floor, received 28 points from Kawhi Leonard and 24 from Paul George and earned a 122-112 win at the Staples Center.
Before Saturday night’s loss, the Sixers had a 100.1 defensive rating since the All-Star break, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the NBA’s best.
Tobias Harris led the team with 29 points on 13-for-19 shooting, seven rebounds, and six assists. Ben Simmons posted 15 points, seven rebounds, and two assists before fouling out with 8:22 to play. Dwight Howard was ejected for a second consecutive game after recording nine points and 11 rebounds.
Here are three takeaways on the Sixers’ loss:
Clippers take advantage of defensive struggles
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard aren’t easy to stop normaly, and the Clippers got them helpful matchups with screens that forced the Sixers into tough switches.
The Sixers are hopeful that Hill, who’s six-foot-four with a six-nine wingspan, can help out in those sorts of situations. For instance, they’d likely have felt more comfortable with Hill switched on to Leonard than with Furkan Korkmaz or Seth Curry. Even if a player who’s considered among a team’s weaker defenders doesn’t have a difficult individual assignment, good coaches often tailor their offense so that he’s asked to stay in front of stars, especially in the playoffs.
Transition defense was at times a problem for the Sixers before the All-Star break, and that issue came back Saturday in the first half. The Clippers scored the game’s only 12 fast-break points, all of which came before halftime.
The Clippers, who led the league with a 41.6 three-point shooting percentage heading into the game, made 11 of 26 Saturday night (42.3%).
Tobias Harris shines
Harris was tremendous as a ball handler and passer in the first half, making the right reads on when to look for his own shot out of the pick-and-roll, when to post up, and when to find open teammates. Harris’ expanded versatility has been key for the Sixers this season. Rivers’ coaching has played a role there, along with the improved spacing that’s coincided with more modern roster construction, but Harris’ individual development has been most important. Having a third star who can guard multiple positions capably and assume a variety of offensive roles better enables Rivers to put other players in position to succeed.
Simmons was used often in this game, as well, as a screener and post player. He had nice moments in both roles, including a layup off of a pick-and-roll with Harris and a cross-court one-handed pass from the post that set up a Scott corner three.
Turnovers were again an issue for Simmons, who committed six of the Sixers’ 16.
When Hill is available, he’ll give the Sixers another ball handling option and perhaps another reason to use Simmons in more pick-and-rolls.
Dwight Howard gets tossed… again
Rivers wasn’t pleased when Howard was ejected Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. “I just thought it was a very selfish play,” he said. “You have one tech, you can’t get another one. … I know it’s an emotional game, but he’s a veteran. We’ve got to have better discipline.”
We’ll see what he has to say after his 35-year-old big man was again ejected in a game where the Sixers were shorthanded at center. Harris also picked up a technical in the fourth quarter.
It appeared Howard received consecutive technical fouls for arguing with the officials. Though it was a frustrating, physical game interrupted by frequent whistles, the Sixers obviously can’t afford for Howard to be called for technicals or ejected come the postseason.
In other bench-related developments, Shake Milton had nine points in his first stretch, playing aggressively and at a nice pace. He ended with 16 points on six-for-11 shooting.
However, Milton’s production did not give the Sixers’ second unit a major edge, since Terance Mann was excellent (nearly flawless) offensively. The Florida State product had 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting.
The day after signing a standard NBA contract, Paul Reed played the final 3:50. The Athletic’s Derek Bodner reported Reed’s contract is a three-year deal at the NBA minimum, with the second and third years not guaranteed.
32-14 Sixers will continue their road trip Tuesday night against the 27-18 Denver Nuggets.