The NBA schedule is so long, and the turnaround between the games often so short that Clippers coach Doc Rivers learned long ago the danger in dwelling on the past.
He reviews the tape, then moves on.
“You just don’t get stuck,” Rivers said Thursday morning, leaning against the scorer’s table in an empty Wells Fargo Center. “You start thinking about the last game, and stay there forever.”
Thursday’s 122-113 loss to Philadelphia might be more difficult to forget than most.
For a second consecutive game, the Clippers opened a tantalizing window into their potential only to see their own maddening inconsistency ruin what could have been a signature early-season victory over a 76ers team led by Joel Embiid’s 41 points.
“It’s mental, mental,” forward Danilo Gallinari said of the up-and-down play.
The Clippers trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half and 15 at halftime thanks to defense befitting a matador.
At halftime, Rivers showed video of all the instances in which 76ers ballhandlers operated with little disruption. Tighter defense, he told them. It worked: A 24-8 third-quarter run gave the Clippers their first lead 32 minutes into the game as reserve Boban Marjanovic, not All-Star Embiid, became the dominant big man.
The Clippers (4-4) stayed within three points after Lou Williams sank a nine-foot jumper with 6:17 remaining, the last of the 11 consecutive points he scored to open the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, the rally had no shot — because the Clippers missed seven of their last eight.
“When Lou gets it going it’s hard to stop him, and he has the ability offensively to carry you, but at some point someone else has to step up,” Rivers said. “Tonight that didn’t happen down the stretch. A lot of guys had good numbers, but we have to be better than that offensively.”
Williams led the Clippers with a season-high 26 points off the bench, with Gallinari adding 25 points and Tobias Harris 24.
Just as their 24 turnovers Tuesday in Oklahoma City transformed a bravura first half into a second-half collapse, the Clippers’ 18 turnovers Thursday kept them from completing the rally. Williams was called for a double-dribble and travel in the final three minutes.
“Dead possessions,” said Williams, who was cheered warmly by fans in the city where he spent the first seven years of his career. “Trying to make a big play and it just didn’t go for us.”
76ers guard Markelle Fultz constantly found holes in the Clippers’ transition defense and finished with 16 points. Rookie of the year Ben Simmons had 14 points. But it was Embiid who carried Philadelphia.
The 7-foot center grabbed 13 rebounds and a sold-out crowd of 20,246 serenaded him with “MVP” chants after a pair of late dunks over Marjanovic punctuated a cathartic victory for the 76ers (5-4).
Clippers centers Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrell each drew four first-half fouls in their attempts to defend Embiid, who scored 24 points before halftime. Offensively they frustrated Rivers just as much with their inability to set screens and roll to the basket. He started Marjanovic instead in the second half, who appeared to roll an ankle midway through the third quarter, yet as the last option to guard Embiid he not only stayed in but thrived.
Embiid made just one of his eight shots in the quarter amid the Clippers’ surge and Marjanovic finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first double-double this season.
Asked about what made him so effective against Embiid, the 7-foot-3 Marjanovic shrugged: “Maybe I’m taller.”
Embiid didn’t disagree.
“Boban is a big dude,” Embiid said. “In that third quarter I missed a lot of easy shots. I was trying to figure him out, a lot of pump fakes and trying to go through him but in the fourth quarter, I changed everything.”
The Clippers next travel to Orlando for their first back-to-back of the season.
In the 24 hours between tipoffs, they’ll attempt to follow their coach’s strategy.