Beating the Raptors was huge for us. Brett Brown had never done it -- despite being a division rival who we play four times a year, we hadn't managed a win against them in over three years, and most of the contests weren't even close -- and they're one of the best teams in the East, the kind of squad it makes a statement to take down. It felt like we had really shed some baggage with that W, but as I discussed with my Sixers fan co-worker the next day, there was still one hurdle the Sixers would have to clear before they had officially turned the corner as a franchise. They had to beat the Clippers.
If there's one recurring memory defined the three years of Our Once and Always Dark Lord's reign, it was getting friggin' creamed by the Clippers. More than any consistently good team of the Process era, it always seemed like it was LAC's mix of athleticism, playmaking and shooting that proved our absolute antithesis -- like the Raps, Brett Brown had yet to topple 'em -- and the one time it was looked like we might actually escape with the upset, the Sixers gave up a wide-open three to J.J. Redick to send the game into O.T. for an inevitable Sixers loss, like it was that one final bit of inescapable gravity. To actually beat the Clips would undoubtedly be the Final Boss for our Ballers.
Of course, no one could've guessed it would come last night, with Joel Embiid, our reason for respectability, still sitting with a left knee bruise. The Sixers' last two Embiid-less night had proven just how far we'd come as a franchise without our man in the middle -- not very -- and even with star L.A. point guard Chris Paul similarly sidelined, it seemed implausible that this squad could emerge victorious over the Clippers. The Process Trusters fought hard in the first half but gave up a million threes, and as the Clips lead ballooned to 19 early in the third, it seemed very Same Old Sixers for all concerned.
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But all credit to the presence of surprise-ending shaman M. Night Shyamalan in the building, because the Sixers turned around the juju right quick. By the end of the third, we were hitting threes, DeAndre Jordan was airballing free throws (to the delirious delight of the WFC crowd), and suddenly the Clippers lead had evaporated. In past seasons, this would all be a prelude to us leaving an anonymous Clipper open in the corner for a game-stealing triple -- et tu, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? -- but by the time we started front-running in the fourth, it was clear we were going to win this one. Which we did, 121-110. That's the difference with this Sixers squad: Gravity is actually on their side now.
Of course, beating the Clippers at home without Chris Paul on the second game of a back-to-back for L.A. is hardly beating last year's full-strength Warriors, and it's unlikely that Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes (!!) will combine for 37 points on 16-21 shooting again too many times this season. But it's nights like this -- and boy have we had a few of 'em lately -- that remind us just how much the suffering was worth it in all those Clippers blowouts, because we are currently enjoying these Ws more than any fanbase possibly could. And so are the Sixers themselves.