Clippers overcome miscues and defensive struggles in win over 76ers
As the ESPN camera crept closer, angling for the perfect pregame shot of Landry Shamet, the voice from three lockers away grew louder.
“Lock in,” starting guard Patrick Beverley said to Shamet, his volume filling up the Clippers’ locker room long before Sunday’s afternoon tipoff against Philadelphia. “Lock in.”
When Todd Wright, poached from the 76ers last summer to become the Clippers’ vice president of player performance, walked by, Beverley hit him with a joking question: If a scuffle broke out, whose side would he be on?
“I got you,” Wright reassured.
But for the first two quarters Sunday, and much of the fourth, the Clippers’ defense could not lock in, shaken by guard Shake Milton’s career-high 39 points, even though Philadelphia played without injured All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and lost a third starter, Josh Richardson, to a bruised nose midgame.
Because of it, the double-digit favorites found themselves in a fight down to the final seconds.
His former teachers remember Clippers star Kawhi Leonard just as he is now: quiet, focused and successful.
The resulting 136-130 victory was the Clippers’ fourth consecutive since adding starting forward Marcus Morris and backup guard Reggie Jackson into the rotation and their eighth in as many tries this season when playing with a fully healthy roster.
It proved instructive in that it revealed miscues — but also the Clippers’ seemingly sizable margin to absorb them.
“When we’re healthy, we can beat anybody,” Beverley said after grabbing four rebounds, with four assists. “And it’s no disrespect to any other NBA teams out there.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 30 points and Paul George, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams each added 24, the second time this season four Clippers scored 20 or more points in the same game, and the team shot 59% from the field and made 13 of their 24 three-point attempts (54%) while committing only 10 turnovers, nearly five fewer than their season average.
Two days earlier, after a 29-point rout of Denver, George said the team’s improvement through the regular season’s end would hinge not only on how they played against potential postseason challengers but their ability to close out games that lacked such a high profile. Sunday offered another test of how well they would lock in.
Highlights from the Clippers’ win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.
Among playoff teams, the 76ers are one of the league’s worst road teams — 9-22 following Sunday’s game. The loss of Embiid and Simmons further lowered their chances for a victory.
Yet behind Milton, Philadelphia dropped 72 points and made 12 of its 20 three-point attempts to lead by two at halftime.
“I thought we did a great job still of approaching this as if it’s the 76ers that’s got them this far in this league,” George said. “We did a great job taking the challenge with [Embiid and Simmons] being out, still playing our game. Again, they were just hot.”
With the Clippers trailing 87-80 with 7:04 remaining in the third quarter, coach Doc Rivers called a timeout after Philadelphia extended its two-point halftime lead on a dunk by Al Horford from a Milton assist.
Over the next 4 minutes 40 seconds, the Clippers finally looked like the unit that held Memphis to 97 points, Phoenix to 92 and Denver 103 — seven fewer than its season average — in its last three games.
During eight consecutive possessions in that nearly five-minute span, Philadelphia (37-24) missed six shots, committed two turnovers and failed to make a field goal. After making 12 of their 20 three-point attempts in the first half, the 76ers made three of their 13 long-range attempts in the third quarter.
“First team that plays defense wins,” Rivers told his team, and when the Clippers did, their one-time 14-point deficit became a 12-point lead entering the final quarter.
The Clippers routed Denver 132-103 on Friday in a meeting of Western Conference powers by slowing down Nuggets one-of-a-kind center Nikola Jokic.
The offense, and the critical stretch of defense, rescued the Clippers (41-19) after their struggles to disrupt what was expected to be a diminished Philadelphia offense.
Milton entered Sunday averaging 7.6 points this season and his presence barely moved the Sixers’ needle — Philadelphia only slightly outscored its opponents when he was on the court. Facing the Clippers, he reached a career-high 29 points with 21 minutes still to play. When he wasn’t hitting, former Clipper Tobias Harris was scoring 25 points, and Mike Scott and Alec Burks came off the bench to each make three three-pointers.
The 76ers closed within four points with 1:41 to play, and were within five with 14 seconds to go on a Milton jumper, but his blocked three-pointer by Jackson with nine seconds left, and Philadelphia down six, ended the best game of his professional life with a loss.
“Like I told our guys, in a lot of nights you have to win in different ways, this is not the way we want to get used to,” Rivers said. “This really tells you a lot of things about our team. You can sustain a hit like that and still win a game , when a team shoots like that, that says a lot about you, more than what you didn’t do. It’s more of what you did.”
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