Perhaps folks will stop singling out the Brooklyn Nets.
The 76ers played their second consecutive much anticipated game against an opposing team that had multiple standouts sidelined. This time, the Sixers joined in.
They ended up defeating the Los Angeles Clippers, 106-103, Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The victory against Doc Rivers’ former team improved their record to 39-17 and keeps them a game ahead of the second-place Nets atop the Eastern Conference.
Joel Embiid had 36 points and 14 rebounds against the Clippers (39-19), who had their seven-game winning streak snapped. Furkan Korkmaz added 18 points. Ben Simmons had 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and two steals. Danny Green had 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two blocks.
Paul George paced Los Angeles with 37 points.
This one had an exciting finish.
Reggie Jackson’s corner three-pointer pulled the Clippers within one point (104-103) with 21.2 seconds to play. With 9.8 seconds left, Green hit a pair of foul shots to make it a 106-103 game. Clippers forward and North Philly native Marcus Morris missed a three with 5.8 seconds left. Embiid chased down the rebound, dribbled around and tossed the ball in the air as the clock expired.
Among the key players missing were Sixers starters Tobias Harris (right-knee soreness) and Seth Curry (left-hip flexor), sidelined after playing in Wednesday’s victory over the Nets. Reserve Dwight Howard (knee soreness) was out for the second straight game. For George Hill (right thumb surgery), this marked his 12th game missed after being acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team trade on March 25.
The Clippers were without five-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard (sore right foot) for the fourth straight game. The game was the fifth straight Patrick Beverley missed with a fractured left hand, and the 18th in a row for Serge Ibaka (lower-back tightness).
The game came two days after the Nets came into the Wells Fargo Center minus seven players, most notably Kevin Durant (left hamstring management), James Harden (right hamstring strain), LaMarcus Aldridge (illness), and Blake Griffin (left knee management). Aldridge retired the next day because of an irregular heartbeat.
The Nets were criticized for holding out key players in the first-place showdown. Yet there have been plenty of injuries this season as teams are cramming a 72-game schedule in about 145 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I try not to comment or worry about other teams in terms of guys sitting,” Simmons said. “That’s on them. Teams are different. Obviously, we don’t know guys’ injuries or what’s going on in their personal lives. So I mean, I’m never going to comment on somebody’s personal life or things like that, as I wouldn’t want somebody to comment on mine.
“But it is what it is. It’s a different type of a season, a different type of time.”
Simmons said he’s trying to make himself available for his teammates. Of the eight games he has missed, six were due to ailments. For the other two, he was in the NBA’s health and safety protocols due to contact tracing.
Rivers was asked if the injuries around the league have a lot to do with the compressed schedule.
“That’s probably true,” he said. “I don’t know, but you’ve got to say there’s got to be something there. I think there’s a lot of things. That’s it and rest, in general, as far as the guys have to get up [early] every morning [for testing].
“That might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you are getting in at 3 in the morning [off a plane from a road trip] and getting back up at 7 or 8, back in your car, and then going [back] to sleep, I think that all plays a role in it.”
He added that sometimes it’s just a matter of being one of those years in regard to injuries.
“I’m not smart enough to figure out some of the injuries,” Rivers said. “But there are a lot, I will say that.”
Perhaps that’s why the Nets have been cautious with their injuries and have rested players all season for what is expected to be a long postseason run.
The Sixers and Clippers are also hopeful of long postseason runs. The players who missed Friday’s game are all vital to both teams’ postseason success. And this season has been grueling.
“I think it’s everything going on,” Simmons said. “It’s been a crazy year. This year hasn’t been normal for you, has it? ... It’s a lot. You have the early testing. You have the travel, a lot of games.
“We had a crazy West Coast trip. Then we are going to go to Milwaukee, play Milwaukee twice [on Thursday and Saturday] and stay. So it’s tough. But it is what it is right now.”
Mike Scott started in place of Harris, while Korkmaz started in Curry’s absence.
The Sixers jumped out to an early 20-3 lead thanks in large part to the Clippers missing eight of their first nine shots. The Clippers kept chipping away at the lead and pulled within three points (73-70) on George’s three-pointer with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter. Then, Patrick Patterson’s three-pointer made it an 81-80 game 36 seconds into the fourth quarter. Patterson scored 18 points -- including five threes -- in 14 minutes off the bench, sparking the Clippers.
The Clippers pulled within one point another time before taking their first lead of the game (91-90) on Patterson’s corner three with 7:14 left.
Anthony Tolliver, who signed a 10-day contract Monday, had two rebounds, one assist, and one block in 14 minutes in his Sixers debut. He missed both of his shots, both three-point shots.