This was a game of four parts. The first stretched from the 1st period into the early second, and was close-fought with a lot of scoring. The Clippers got mostly good looks during this stretch, and converted on them, led by Tobias Harris and then Lou Williams off the bench. The Sixers, on the other hand, dominated with Joel Embiid in the post.
The second stretch ran most of the 2nd quarter, when the Sixers caught fire from the floor while the Clippers took cold, and saw the Sixers obtain a 20-point lead. The Clippers just could not stop the inside-out game of the Sixers: Embiid hit threes when the Clippers bigs hung back, and his screens were able to set shooters such as JJ Redick and Landry Shamet free as well. On the other end, the Clippers’ offense appeared disjointed. The ball was moving around the perimeter, but there was little penetration, and bad passes led to easy Sixers points the other way.
The third part started late in the 2nd quarter and went until halfway through the 3rd quarter, featuring a massive Clipper run that saw them regain the lead at one point, albeit briefly. This coincided with the entrance into the game of one Boban Marjanovic, and while he didn’t accumulate many stats early, his presence at the rim on both ends was an immediate factor. Doc even started him at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, and he played most of the rest of the game. Boban did various Boban things (putting up 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks, but also looking slow defensively a handful of times as well), and was easily the Clippers’ best big man on the evening. Meanwhile, Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris were able to get going, making several threes as well as finishing inside over Embiid. A Gallinari three even got the Clippers up 81-80 (they’d trailed 72-57 at halftime), but the lead was short-lived. Nonetheless, seeing this type of fire and heart from the Clippers even when down big to a tough opponent was really nice to see, and seems to be a true hallmark of this squad.
The rest of the game saw the Sixers slowly reassert control, with periodic Clipper attempts to make pushes stifled by turnover or poor shot selection. Pat Beverley and Avery Bradley continued to clank shots when open and just couldn’t find easy looks for teammates, while Lou Williams was able to score, but was getting targeted on defense. The Clippers just couldn’t find the right batch of players on the court to match the Sixers, and a series of late turnovers essentially ended any chance of a comeback they may have had. The Sixers ended up hanging on for a 122-113 win, a score that was closer than how the game felt for much of the final period.
- Marcin losing minutes: Marcin Gortat has not been a key part of the Clippers’ rotation early this season, topping off at 20 minutes in any game, but tonight was a new low with just 9 minutes played. He had two turnovers and four fouls in those minutes without scoring, looking completely helpless against Embiid on both ends. Gortat just hasn’t done much in general this season – he’s barely involved in the offense, and while he tries on defense, he’s slow and not much of a rim protector. Certainly, he’s not a horrible option for 15 minutes a game on most nights, but I think there are going to be games where he’s unplayable, and the Clippers go with their other guys instead. He might look better playing with guards who are stronger in the pick and roll (Shai, Lou, Milos), but Montrezl is great with those guys too, and moving Trez to the starting role could “upset the applecart” as the saying goes. Still, keep an eye on Gortat’s minutes going forward, as he might end up out of the rotation altogether at some point.
- Shai with another rough game: Shai had his worst game of the season against the Thunder on Tuesday, and tonight was another imperfect outing from him. He had a couple gorgeous baskets in the first half, and made a couple nice passes, but his defense left something to be desired, and his short jumpers were off as well. Again, he’s not playing horribly: his shots just aren’t going in right now, and he’s showing some rookie mistakes on defense. Even an off-night for him still isn’t that bad (he was a -18, but that had something to do with the lineups he was a part of), and that’s a great sign for a rookie point guard. He’ll come around.
- Beverley and Bradley struggle again: After a few strong games, over the last two games the Clippers’ backcourt has reverted to the play they showed in the first couple games of the season – which was not good. The guards went 2-13 from the field, 0-5 from three, and had 5 assists to 4 turnovers. Their defense was mostly fine, but both also lost Sixers’ shooters a couple times, and their height put them at a disadvantage when contesting shots. Really though, it’s almost impossible to win when your starting backcourt is that bad on offense. Neither Pat nor Bradley could create any easy looks for themselves and teammates, and when they were set up for shots themselves, they invariably missed. It’s probably too early to break the “Clamp City” duo apart, especially since both are shaking the rust off after missing most of last season due to injury. However, early results have been mostly negative – there just isn’t a ton of playmaking or ball-handling with both on the court together, and adding Lou in three-guard sets just makes the Clippers far too small. Shai might be having some rookie issues right now, but his skillset simply makes more sense in the starting unit. I would expect Doc to stick with Beverley and Bradley for a while longer though, unless things really go south.
- Tobias and Danilo stand out: Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari have been by far the Clippers’ best players through the first eight games of the season. Tonight, they combined for 49 points on just 30 shots, and added 8 rebounds apiece. Also, unlike other Clippers, they were able to keep turnovers to a minimum. Neither are perfect players: they’re only average defensively, aren’t great playmakers, and can’t get shots off as easily as most other 20+ point per game scorers. Yet there is no denying how good they’ve been thus far. They have been hitting their outside shots, snagging boards, competing on defense, and getting to the free throw line. Their strong play has kept the Clippers afloat in the early going. Now it’s time for the rest of the team to step up.
- Joel Embiid dominates: I predicted before the game that Embiid would have a huge night, and he did, putting up 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks. The Clippers just had no consistent answer for him despite playing reasonably sound defense. He’s an absolute beast, but the young generation of big men in the NBA should be able to feast against the Clippers’ frontline all year. The Clippers’ bigs are either too slow or too short to compete against most premier big men, and that was certainly the case tonight.