Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers seize a strong win over Harden, Clippers 

The Sixers earned a 121-107 road win Sunday afternoon.

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The Sixers finally saw James Harden again Sunday in Los Angeles.

The team was victorious in its first matchup with the 10-time All-Star since trading him away in a major early-season deal, earning a strong 121-107 win over the Clippers.

Tyrese Maxey had 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting, six assists and no turnovers.

Tobias Harris also scored 24 points. Cameron Payne added a season-high 23.

Harden finished with 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting and 14 assists. Kawhi Leonard posted 20 points and Paul George had 18 for the Clippers, who fell to 44-26.

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Kyle Lowry (rest), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and Kai Jones (right hamstring strain). 

The Clippers didn’t have Russell Westbrook (left hand fracture) and PJ Tucker (right calf soreness). 

The 39-32 Sixers will finish their four-game road trip Monday night against the Kings.

Here are observations on their victory in L.A.:

No more lid on the basket 

Harris showed zero reluctance about taking the early jumpers available to him, scoring the afternoon’s first seven points on a corner three-pointer and two mid-range jumpers.

Harden got Los Angeles on the board by accelerating left off of a double drag action and making an and-one layup. He was guarded by Kelly Oubre Jr., who picked up two fouls in quick succession but stayed in the game and played an excellent first quarter offensively. He regularly made the right play, hitting open teammates and knocking down two corner threes.

For the day, Oubre recorded 12 points and a season-high six assists.

A 32.7 percent career long-distance shooter, Oubre had been just 23 percent over his last 29 games. He was due to have a few jumpers drop. So were the Sixers, who’d only scored 18 fourth-quarter points Friday night in their loss to the Lakers. They racked up 23 more than that in Sunday’s first quarter and began 8 for 10 from three-point territory. 

Replacement starter Buddy Hield and Mo Bamba were among the Sixers to nail first-quarter threes. Bamba had an active, productive opening stint, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking two shots in the first period. 

Great day for Batum-less bench

Payne was happy to help the Sixers’ shooting off the bench. He made a three-pointer and two free throws to stretch the team’s lead to 50-33. The 29-year-old guard showed off his microwave scoring and confident, quirky game all day long.

With Lowry out, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse handed a backup guard rotation spot to Jeff Dowtin Jr. The two-way contract player chipped in three points, four rebounds and three assists. 

KJ Martin had a good, high-energy outing against his former team. He turned out to be the one player traded away from the Clippers in the Harden deal to appear Sunday. 

Nicolas Batum, who’d played in the Sixers’ previous seven games and has been a consistent, important rotation member, didn’t see the floor. The 35-year-old’s been playing through left foot soreness, so perhaps the Sixers thought it best to give him the day off on the first leg of a back-to-back.

Batum had served as an emergency late-game inbounder last month in a win over the Cavs. His services weren't required Sunday.

The Clippers recognized Batum, Martin and Covington’s time in L.A. with an in-game tribute video. 

The Sixers held a 37-20 bench scoring advantage when the Clippers subbed out their stars in the middle of the fourth quarter. New Sixers 10-day contract signing DJ Wilson got in during garbage time.

Maxey the best guard out there in decisive stretch

As the Sixers know very well, Embiid-less wins don’t often come easily. 

Facing a 63-46 deficit late in the second quarter, the Clippers made a 16-0 run. After their scorching start, the Sixers hit just 1 of their next 9 three-pointers.

Oubre crashed into Clippers big man Ivica Zubac on a drive early in the third quarter and fell hard to the floor. He rose slowly and went back to the locker room with Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson. Fortunately for the Sixers, Oubre subbed back in a couple of minutes later. The team regained a modest lead and Oubre delivered a spectacular highlight play, sprinting back in transition to deny a George dunk. 

Much of Sunday's contest was not a true Maxey vs. Harden duel. However, when the Sixers put Maxey on the three-time scoring champion to begin the fourth quarter, he was convincingly superior to a player who once mentored him on a daily basis.

“One thing that he really (instilled) in me is confidence,” Maxey said of Harden on Oct. 31. “And I’ve always been a confident person, but he made me be more confident than I already was and all I can do is appreciate him for that. 

“He took me under his wing, taught me a lot of things as far as being a professional in this league and how things go, so I appreciate him, I love him. ... Love that guy.”

Maxey defended Harden tightly in the fourth quarter, sometimes applying ball pressure high up the floor, and Paul Reed (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks) was rock-solid in drop coverage. When Harden got a step on Maxey and drove downhill, Reed tied him up for a jump ball.

On the other end, Maxey drained two three-pointers, blew past Harden and dropped in a beautiful floater, and finished strongly through contact. Before the Clippers seemed to know what hit them, the Sixers' lead was over 20 points.

Harden and the Clippers will try to even the score when they visit Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

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