If the win in Atlanta on the second half of a road back-to-back a couple of weeks ago was the Los Angeles Clippers' best win of the season, it's safe to say this was their worst. Sure, they beat the Sixers Monday night 98-92 after playing in Miami on Sunday afternoon, but it was far too close to being a horrifying loss.
The Clippers didn't get off to as sluggish a start as they did in Miami, but it wasn't far off. LAC turned the ball over three times in the first two minutes, leading to three easy layups for Philly. Even when the Clippers weren't turning the ball over, they were bricking shot after shot. Chris Paul and J.J. Redick started a combined 3-for-10 from the floor over the first seven minutes as the Sixers built an early 21-9 lead.
Philly started the game 9-for-13 but went cold from that point, which helped the Clippers get back into it. L.A. closed the frame on a 13-4 run (buoyed a bit by seven quick points off the bench from Jamal Crawford) to cut the deficit to three after one.
LAC's unit consisting largely of bench players scored just four points over the first five minutes of the second, though, and Philly was once again able to build their lead back up to 12 following a pair of free throws from Jerami Grant. The drought prompted Doc Rivers to come back with the starters, though they didn't look any less sluggish. Philadelphia was playing with tons of energy while the Clippers were sleepwalking. Not exactly a winning combination there.
Free throws accounted for nearly all of the Clips' offense down-the-stretch of the half. This would be acceptable if Philly wasn't getting whatever they wanted on the other end. A tip dunk by Jahlil Okafor put the 76ers up 53-34, good for their largest lead of the game. With about three minutes left, though, the Clippers seemed to finally find their legs a little bit. Seven quick points from Redick wrapped around a layup for Wes brought L.A. to within 10 at 59-49 at the break.
Active defense was finally leading to 76er misses and turnovers which allowed the Clippers to get out into transition, which is something they hadn't been able to do much at all through the first 24 minutes. Down 10 to a team like the 76ers is never a place you want to be, but when you've just shot 34% from the floor and 27% from deep for a whole half, it's not the worst place, either.
As one would expect, the Clips came out of the locker room looking more like themselves. Back-to-back buckets by Redick and Paul combined with solid defending on the other end closed the gap to 59-53. Still, though, they were just unable to string enough buckets and stops together to get over the hump. The sense that the Clippers would eventually go on a run and overtake Philly was always there, but the execution wasn't. The Sixers weren't hitting shots either (33% in the third) but they were outworking the Clippers, as evidenced by their six offensive boards in the frame. Heading into the fourth Philly held a 73-65 advantage.
Consecutive baskets from Cole Aldrich and Crawford brought LAC back to within three early in the fourth, causing Brett Brown to call for time. It was the first time in a long time that the Clippers had put real pressure on Philly, but the young Sixers came out of the timeout unfazed. A miraculous, end-of-the-clock turnaround jumper from Grant and back-to-back Hollis Thompson three-balls restored the 76ers' breathing room a bit as the lead swelled back up to seven.
But then, back came the Clippers! An Ish Smith layup on a runout was the only basket Philadelphia got over the next four minutes of game time, while a jumper from Crawford, a thunderous Jordan jam and a CP3 lay-in suddenly made it 84-82, Sixers. It was the closest the Clippers had been since Philly held a 23-22 lead late in the first. Neither team was able to do a whole lot offensively in the final two minutes, and the Sixers held a three-point lead with about 19 seconds to play. Despite not having played one of his better offensive games, Redick drilled a triple to knot things up at 88 following a timeout. The 76ers drew up a miserable isolation play for Okafor that resulted in a fallaway jumper over Jordan from about 21 feet, which, of course, missed badly. Overtime!
Once OT rolled around, it was evident that the Clips were finished screwing around. They opened the extra period with four straight baskets and built a quick eight-point lead at 96-88 just over two minutes in. The Sixers put forth a valiant effort in this game, but LAC wasted no time in killing their hope. Despite shooting just 36% from the field (27% from three!), the Clips escaped Philadelphia with a 98-92 victory.
Crawford finished as the team's co-leading scorer with 23 points on 9-for-21 shooting from the floor. Sure, plenty of his shots were the standard low-percentage looks Jamal likes to take, but the Clippers likely would've been blown-out were it not for his scoring in this game. Redick also scored 23, though connected on just eight of his 17 FGAs. L.A. lost the rebounding battle 54-52, but Jordan finished with 21 boards, including eight on the offensive glass. Paul was never really able to get his legs under him, shooting just 5-for-18 on his way to 19 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. Johnson started at small forward for Paul Pierce (rest) and contributed seven points and nine rebounds in 41 minutes. LAC improved to 4-0 in OT games this season, while the Sixers fell to 0-33 against teams with winning records.
Philly was led by 17 points and 11 boards from Jerami Grant off-the-bench, who proved to be a thorn in the side of the Clips throughout. Thompson contributed 16 points (4-for-6 from three), while Smith had 16 and nine rebounds on poor 7-of-24 shooting.
With consecutive games against Boston, Golden State and San Antonio on the horizon, the Clippers clearly fell victim to the classic "trap game" in this one. Wins are wins, but having to play Paul, Jordan and Redick around 40 minutes apiece and going to overtime against the league's worst team is far from an ideal outcome. There aren't a whole lot of positives to take from this one, so we can go ahead and look forward to Wednesday's tilt with the Celtics.