Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers Vs. Clippers: Despite Joel Embiid's 40 Points, Sixers Blow 24-Point Lead

3 observations after Sixers blow 24-point lead despite Embiid’s 40 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers blew a 24-point second-half lead and fell to a 102-101 loss Friday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Clippers. 

Tyrese Maxey missed a potential game-winning runner at the buzzer that would have rescued the Sixers from a disappointing defeat. 

The game after scoring 50 points, Joel Embiid notched 40, in addition to 13 rebounds and six assists. Embiid has led the Sixers in scoring 16 consecutive times.

The team was without four typical rotation players this season in Seth Curry (left ankle soreness), Danny Green (right hip pain), Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder sprain) and Shake Milton (back contusion). Ben Simmons missed his 45th straight game. In an interview Thursday on 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said a Simmons trade before the Feb. 10 deadline is “less likely than likely.”

Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were out with long-term injuries. 

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The Sixers will next face the Spurs on Sunday in San Antonio. Here are observations on their loss to the Clippers: 

Embiid can't save the day 

The Clippers showed Embiid a hard double team on his opening touch, which led the Sixers to a clear counter: Putting their superstar more in the middle of the floor, a spot that’s generally difficult to send aggressive help defense. That mostly worked well, since Embiid is not reliant on post-ups to dominate. 

Attacking before the defense is set has become another important method for Embiid to avoid troublesome double teams. His ball handling skill plays a big role there, as does his fitness level. Instead of trailing the play, Embiid is now sometimes legitimately ahead of the pack. 

In almost every situation since December, Embiid has struck the correct balance between a poised, controlled approach and doing whatever’s necessary to take the game over. With the exception of a first-quarter turnover on a cross-court pass, he moved the ball to the open man when double teamed. And he ensured there was no doubt about the best player on the court in the second period with a stretch that included a coast-to-coast slam, pull-up jumper in semi-transition, and a drive and dunk past Isaiah Hartenstein. 

As the Clippers made their comeback, it was obvious that their key to defensive success was preventing Embiid from touching the ball with any space to operate. They were physical with Embiid on the perimeter and quite rightly centered their defense around him. The different zone looks Los Angeles head coach Tyronn Lue mixed in worked, too. 

Embiid extended the Sixers' edge from two points to five with a huge three-pointer. However, the Clippers kept making clutch shots of their own. Marcus Morris Sr.'s triple tied it at 96-apiece and Ivica Zubac's fast-break layup following an Embiid turnover gave Los Angeles the lead with 1:30 left.

Another new starter 

The game after giving Charlie Brown Jr. his first start as a Sixer, head coach Doc Rivers went with Isaiah Joe. It was Joe’s first start of the season and the second of his NBA career.

Joe scored the Sixers’ opening basket on a catch-and-shoot three-pointer, but the team did not begin well outside of Embiid for a second straight game. The Sixers missed 14 of their first 18 field goals and Los Angeles took a 24-11 lead.  

To the Sixers’ credit, most of the looks were reasonable and the team limited turnovers as usual. Embiid cleaned up a Georges Niang corner three miss against a possession of Clippers zone, muscling his way to an offensive board and then converting an and-one layup. 

Rivers used a three-man bench of Brown, Niang and Andre Drummond, and that trio played together early in the second quarter alongside Tyrese Maxey and Furkan Korkmaz. It was an effective five-man group as their minutes featured good defensive activity, sensible offense and improved rebounding compared to the Sixers’ starting unit.

Niang began 0 for 5, but he nailed a three-pointer to cut the Clippers’ advantage to 32-30. Brown’s rebounding was particularly impressive, though he continued to struggle with finishing around the hoop. He made a mistake late when, with the shot clock unplugged, he didn't immediately commit an intentional foul; an incredulous Embiid had to do so instead. 

Los Angeles played 11 men, and their superior depth showed in the second half. Two Luke Kennard three-pointers cut the Clippers' deficit to four points early in the fourth quarter.

Maxey's marksmanship a big-picture bright spot

Maxey posted 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting and eight assists. He put together one of his now-familiar scoring flurries late in the second quarter. 

With a 3-for-6 night from three-point range (one of his misses was an end-of-quarter heave), the 21-year-old is now at 40.6 percent on the season. As a rookie, he only made 30.1 percent of his long-distance tries.

That’s a dramatic leap, and it perhaps indicates that the concerns about Maxey’s jumper leading into the 2020 NBA draft were overblown. He had a lower release than the average NBA guard’s, yes, but his form was essentially fine, his touch was soft, and he knocked down 83.3 percent of his college free throws. 

In Year 2, Maxey’s teammates have encouraged him to trust that his much-lauded work ethic will pay off in games. Even if he doesn’t hang around 40 percent all season or increase his volume, Maxey’s shooting development is a massive positive for the Sixers, even on a bitter night overall.

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