3 observations after Sixers blow 24-point lead despite Embiid's 40


The Sixers blew a 24-point second-half lead and fell to a 102-101 loss Friday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Clippers. 

Tyrese Maxey missed a potential game-winning runner at the buzzer that would have rescued the Sixers from a disappointing defeat. 

The game after scoring 50 points, Joel Embiid notched 40, in addition to 13 rebounds and six assists. Embiid has led the Sixers in scoring 16 consecutive times.

The team was without four typical rotation players this season in Seth Curry (left ankle soreness), Danny Green (right hip pain), Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder sprain) and Shake Milton (back contusion). Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were out with long-term injuries, while Ben Simmons (personal reasons) missed his 45th straight game. In an interview Thursday on 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said a Simmons trade before the Feb. 10 deadline is “less likely than likely.”

Embiid identified “loss of focus" as the team's main problem Friday. 

“Obviously we have a lot of guys out that can contribute, but that’s not an excuse," Embiid said after the game. “But you’ve just got to go out there every single night and try to do what we talk about in film sessions, shootarounds or practices.

“We’ve got to be better prepared. We’ve got to know our assignments. There’s a lot of times where we’re just lost on the court offensively and defensively, so we’ve just got to be focused.”

The 26-19 Sixers will face the Spurs on Sunday in San Antonio. Here are observations on their loss to the Clippers: 

Embiid can't save the day 

The Clippers showed Embiid a hard double team on his opening touch, which led the Sixers to a clear counter: Putting their superstar more in the middle of the floor, a spot that’s generally difficult to send aggressive help defense. That mostly worked well, since Embiid is not reliant on post-ups to dominate. 

Attacking before the defense is set has become another important method for Embiid to avoid troublesome double teams. His ball handling skill plays a big role there, as does his fitness level. Instead of trailing the play, Embiid is now sometimes legitimately ahead of the pack. 

In almost every situation since December, Embiid has struck the correct balance between a poised, controlled approach and doing whatever’s necessary to take the game over. He ensured there was no doubt about the best player on the court in the second period with a stretch that included a coast-to-coast slam, pull-up jumper in semi-transition, and a drive and dunk on Isaiah Hartenstein. 

As the Clippers made their comeback, it was obvious that their key to defensive success was preventing Embiid from touching the ball with any space to operate. They were physical with Embiid on the perimeter and quite rightly centered their defense around him. The different zone looks Los Angeles head coach Tyronn Lue mixed in worked, too. 

“I think when they went to the zone, it kind of pushed us back a little bit on our feet," Tobias Harris said following a 20-point, seven-rebound game. “But really, we should’ve just been attacking the middle and creating straight-line drives.

“But instead, in their spurt when they had the zone, we were just throwing the ball around the perimeter and weren’t really creating any movement, any actions to get downhill. ... When a team goes zone, you either have to get straight-line drives to the basket or threes. And during that stretch, we weren’t getting either of those.”

Embiid extended the Sixers' edge to five points with a huge three-pointer down the stretch. However, the Clippers kept making clutch shots of their own. Marcus Morris Sr.'s triple tied it at 96 apiece and Ivica Zubac's fast-break layup after an Embiid turnover gave Los Angeles the lead with 1:30 left.

When a reporter pointed to Embiid accumulating another massive stat line, he answered by listing off the few regrettable aspects of his performance, including that giveaway.

“I also had five turnovers, and a big one on the steal by (Nicolas Batum) in the fourth," Embiid said. “I had a few opportunities for and-ones that I didn’t convert. I missed two free throws with (three) minutes left in the third. Could always be better. I’m never satisfied with anything."

Another new starter 

The game after giving Charlie Brown Jr. his first start as a Sixer, head coach Doc Rivers went with Isaiah Joe. It was Joe’s first start of the season and the second of his NBA career.

Joe scored the Sixers’ opening basket on a catch-and-shoot three-pointer, but the team did not begin well outside of Embiid for a second straight game. The Sixers missed 14 of their first 18 field goals and Los Angeles took a 24-11 lead.  

To the Sixers’ credit, most of the looks were reasonable and the team limited turnovers as usual. Embiid cleaned up a Georges Niang corner three miss against a possession of Clippers zone, muscling his way to an offensive board and then converting an and-one layup. 

Rivers used a three-man bench of Brown, Niang and Andre Drummond, and that trio played together early in the second quarter alongside Maxey and Furkan Korkmaz. It was an effective five-man group in the first half as their minutes featured good defensive activity, sensible offense and improved rebounding compared to the Sixers’ starting unit.

Niang began 0 for 5, but he nailed a three-pointer to cut the Clippers’ advantage to 32-30. Brown’s rebounding was particularly impressive, though he continued to struggle with finishing around the hoop. He made a mistake late when, with the shot clock unplugged, he didn't immediately commit an intentional foul; an incredulous Embiid had to do so instead. 

Rivers noted there were “so many little things" that factored into the loss. He didn't like being asked by a reporter what part of the defeat he'd attribute to coaching.

“I don’t know," he said. “Would you ask (Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich) that question? No, you wouldn’t. So don’t ask me that question. I’ve earned that.”

The Clippers played 11 men and their superior depth showed in the second half. Two Luke Kennard three-pointers cut Los Angeles' deficit to four points early in the fourth period.

“I thought we really lost their shooters too many times, just in transition, on pick-and-rolls," Rivers said. “I mean, how many threes did they get? They were running double drags and getting threes, so that hurt us. But they shouldn’t have been in that position."

Maxey's marksmanship a big-picture bright spot

Maxey posted 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting and eight assists. He put together one of his now-familiar scoring flurries late in the second quarter. 

With a 3-for-6 night from three-point range (one of his misses was an end-of-quarter heave), the 21-year-old is now at 40.6 percent on the season. As a rookie, he only made 30.1 percent of his long-distance tries.

That’s a dramatic leap, and it perhaps indicates that the concerns about Maxey’s jumper leading into the 2020 NBA draft were overblown. He had a lower release than the average NBA guard’s, yes, but his form was essentially fine, his touch was soft, and he knocked down 83.3 percent of his college free throws. 

In Year 2, Maxey’s teammates have encouraged him to trust that his much-lauded work ethic will pay off in games. Even if he doesn’t hang around 40 percent all season or increase his volume, Maxey’s shooting development is a massive positive for the Sixers on a bitter night overall.

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