By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 109, Los Angeles 105 – Box Score
During the Process era, the Clippers were always the team the Sixers could never get to play down to the competition. Against other opponents, teams would often come out flat, Philadelphia would hang around before fading late, and the opposing coach would say something nice after the game about how the Sixers are one of the hardest-working teams in the league. Not so against Los Angeles, who would just routinely feature Chris Paul throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in 30-point blowouts.
Now, it’s a new era. Chris Paul is injured in the sidelines in Houston, and more importantly for those of us in Philadelphia, the Sixers have a healthy Joel Embiid, a healthy Ben Simmons, and an about to be much richer man in Robert Covington. With those three leading the way, the Sixers did just enough to pull out the last-minute victory in La La Land, snapping a two-game losing streak and quieting the asinine “Brett Brown blows it in late game situations” talks for the time being.
J.J. Redick didn’t have the revenge game I’m sure he envisioned against his former club, missing his first 6 three-point attempts, but he finally connected with a little over a minute left to pull the Sixers back within 2. On Philadelphia’s next possession, Joel Embiid tied the game off a nice dish in the lane from Ben Simmons, who basically treated Sindarius Thornwell like he was holding a blocking pad in a football gauntlet drill.
Then, a man who had no trouble finding the range from downtown on the evening (going 5-8), Robert Covington hit a huge three-pointer with 30 seconds left to put the Sixers back in front. RoCo and Simmons combined to shoot a perfect 6-6 from the foul line in the closing seconds to help seal the victory. On a night when the supporting cast didn’t offer a ton of support, Philadelphia’s three stars (yes, the way he’s playing, Covington deserves the label) put the team on their backs and pushed the Sixers back above .500.
Joel Embiid was incredible, dropping 32 points and grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds while (stunningly) playing 36 minutes. JoJo was in the Clippers’ heads all evening, at one point frustrating Willie Reed to the point that Reed slammed Embiid to the floor on a dunk attempt instead of making an effort to actually play defense. Reed was whistled for a flagrant foul, as Embiid calmly laughed and repeated said “you can’t f-in guard me”.
Truer words were never spoken, as no Clipper had a chance against Embiid, constantly sending him to the foul line (9-16) because they had no hope of stopping him in the painted area. Here was DeAndre Jordan, often touted by head coach Doc Rivers as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, getting thrown onto a pogo stick by an Embiid pump fake and vicious baseline slam.
With Embiid dominating down low, the perimeter was left in the capable hands of Robert Covington, who didn’t miss in the first half and ended the night with 31 points on 9-12 shooting from the field. RoCo might as well be wearing Hal Jordan’s ring with the size of the green light he has right now to hoist from anywhere on the court. Covington is casually shooting (and draining) threes from 28 feet away right now.
Toss in the usual terrific defense (4 steals) and Covington’s confidence is sky-high, just as his bank account is soon to be when he signs his extension on Wednesday.
Finally, we arrive at Rookie of the Year favorite Ben Simmons, who recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Simmons has come to the conclusion that it’s not as important to have an outside jumper if you just dunk on everybody. Ben is almost literally dunking on everybody; he had 5 throwdowns in the first half alone.
I love the way Simmons has realized he is bigger and stronger than anybody else guarding him. He is leveraging his body to initiate contact and have his opponent bounce off him, creating enough space for him to finish at the rim essentially unimpeded. Simmons struggled against Golden State because Draymond Green is both quick enough to slide in front of him and strong enough to hold his ground against that contact. But against the rest of the league who aren’t paradigm-shifting defensive talents, Simmons is having a field day.
Monday night wasn’t perfect; the Sixers blew an early double-digit lead and the 20 turnovers need to be cleaned up. But they went into the Staples Center and took down the Clippers, something that would have been a fever dream the past few years. The tides are turning and the Lakers are next up to be swept up by the current Wednesday night.