LOS ANGELES — Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers was weird for Doc Rivers.
Rivers changed the perception as the coach of the team he brought his 76ers into the Staples Center to face. The Sixers went on to lose, 122-112, snapping a four-game winning streak. The Sixers (32-14) are 3-1 through four games of their six-game road trip.
The Clippers (31-16) extended their winning streak to five games.
This wasn’t Rivers’ first highly anticipated return to face a team he formerly coached. But unlike in his first return trip to Boston to face the Celtics as a Clipper during the 2013-14, there were no fans in attendance Saturday night to give him a standing ovation.
“I had a lot of good years here,” said Rivers, who he had a 356-208 mark with the top winning percentage (.631) in franchise history in seven seasons with the Clippers. “For me, not having fans [in his first game back] will take that away. The three or four days I’ve been here, you see them on the streets, even though we can’t be on the streets, and that’s been nice.”
But this night didn’t go the way Rivers would had hoped.
Kawhi Leonard paced the Clippers with 28 points. He was one of five double-digit scorers for the Clippers. Terance Man added 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting in a reserve role. Los Angeles shot 52.9% from the field and 42.3% on three-pointers.
“I just thought their size bothered us, switching bothered us,” Rivers said of things unraveling for the Sixers in the third quarter. “You know [four] technical fouls in a game that you are playing one of the best teams in the West, right? So those are the things that can’t happen.”
Tobias Harris had a game-high 29 points in the loss. Danny Green added 17 points while making 5 of 9 three-pointers. Shake Milton had 16 points off the bench.
But the night ended badly for Dwight Howard, who was ejected for the second consecutive game.
This time, the reserve center was called for an offensive foul with 10:41 left to play. Six seconds later, he received a technical foul for saying something to an official.
“During the next possession he ran all the way down the floor to the calling official and pointed at the calling official and yelled at him and that’s why the first technical foul was called,” referee crew chief Tony Brothers said.
Howard said something to another official, leading to his receiving a second technical and was tossed. He had nine points and 11 rebounds.
“He said something derogatory to the official he was talking to about the official who called the first technical foul,” Brothers said.
Harris and Curry also picked up technical fouls.
“Assessing myself a fourth-quarter technical foul is unacceptable for what we are trying to do and how we are trying to build as a team,” said Harris, who received his technical with 6:23 remaining. “It’s just important not to get techs in the fourth quarter. So for us, it’s kind of just keeping our composure and leveling out what’s going on.”
On Thursday, Howard was ejected after the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons picked up his sixth foul Saturday with 8:22 to play was disqualified. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
The Clippers honored Rivers with a video tribute during the first timeout with 6:41 left in the first quarter.
Rivers’ favorite moment with the Clippers organization was winning the 2014 opening-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. Perhaps that’s because his toughest battle was keeping the team together after TMZ released an audiotape containing racially insensitive remarks by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling during that series.
“I think the franchise was on the brink, if you know what I’m saying,” Rivers said, “not only how we dealt with it. But more that we responded by playing well enough to win a series that I thought for the franchise was a must-win series, because of what we were going through.
“So just watching our fans, just the entire group rally, I would say that’s number one.”
Before the game, Rivers was asked how he would approach the playoffs knowing that the Brooklyn Nets could be the Goliath of the conference.
Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to sign with the Nets on Saturday. This came after Brooklyn signed six-time All-Star Blake Griffin on March 8 and traded for 2018 MVP and nine-time All-Star James Harden on Jan. 13 to a roster that included 2014 MVP and 11-time All-Star Kevin Durant and seven-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.
“I don’t worry about it, to be honest,” Rivers said. “We kind of worry about ourselves. That’s all we can do. We like our team. We like who we are. We like how we play.
“So ... I don’t give it a lot of thought.”
Saturday’s contest marked the eighth game that Joel Embiid has missed his since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee on March 12 at Washington.
Thursday’s game at Cleveland, the final game of the trip, has been mentioned as a possible return date for Embiid. But no one really knows when he’ll return. The Sixers say he’s progressing well through his rehabilitation program. The four-time All-Star has resumed his on-court basketball activity and is ramping up his conditioning.