What we learned from the Sixers’ 110-103 win over the Clippers on Tuesday night.
What that means for the long run is a question for another day. On Tuesday night, it meant an offense where space suddenly opened up for each of the four remaining members of the original starting lineup. This was most evident in the cases of Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. Harris, who does not have the quickness or handle to consistently beat most upper echelon wing players off the dribble, feasted on the Clippers throughout the first half, particularly after Clippers power forward JaMychal Green checked into the game and began guarding him.
Harris’ highlight play actually came when he was matched up against bench guard Rodney McGruder, whom he beat to the middle with his right and then finished with a poster-worthy one-handed dunk. But it was a subsequent drive that might have been the best example of the increased space he could enjoy with more minutes at the four. Matched up against Green, Harris easily beat the stout four man off the dribble for a layup that gave him 11 points in the opening period.
Frankly, it all depends on whether he continues to shoot three contested pull-ups per shift, which is what he proceeded to do after making his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Burks’ first shot was not unreasonable, and he hit it. But he followed it up with an ill-advised clunker from three-point range, followed by another one from mid-range that did not need to be taken. Burks did show that he can get himself to most spots on the court with his dribble. He did not show the basketball IQ that would have turned that ability into net-positive possessions. Granted, that probably should not come as a surprise, and we probably should not hold our breath for a better version of Burks to suddenly emerge. There’s a reason he was playing on a minimum contract and was available for the draft pick equivalent of the unpopped popcorn kernels at the bottom of a bowl.
Give them credit. They tried. Two days after he shushed the home crowd in a win over the Bulls, and one day after his back-and-forth with Jimmy Butler on Instagram caused the Internet to explode, Embiid was treated to a noticeably mixed reception when he was introduced prior to tip-off. The boos were hardly overpowering and were mostly lost in the sound of cheers and music. But it was definitely a different reception than he usually gets. And after he scored the game’s first bucket and went to the line, some lingering discontent could be heard amidst the silence before his shot.
For the most part, though, it was business as usual. Embiid was more than solid, making the most of the physical advantage that he enjoyed over Clippers big man Ivica Zubac. Embiid finished with 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and 8-of-13 from the foul line.
Let’s forget the contract for a moment and just think about fit. While Montrezl Harrell has been a valuable offensive big for the Clippers over the last couple of seasons, and while Zubac has been steady, L.A. was out-physicaled by the Sixers throughout the night, and would certainly stand to benefit from a better all-around option at the five. While it’s been a disappointing season for Horford, it hasn’t been any fault of his own. He’s looked like his usual steady self whenever he has been able to play the five, which was the case again on Tuesday.
Now, the contract. With three years and $81 million remaining on his deal after this season, it’s hardly a safe assumption that any team would view Horford as having positive value at this point. And even if there was a team that believed him to be that behind closed doors, Elton Brand isn’t going to have much leverage to proceed as if that is the case. A lot depends on what happens over the rest of the season, but do we really think Horford is going to be content to be a 20-minute-a-night bench player for the rest of his career?
Even if the Clippers do decide they need a big, would they want to eliminate the possibility of acquiring another max-contract superstar, with a particular eye on what is expected to be a strong class of free agents in 2021? While the Clippers could put together enough salary to facilitate a deal, doing so would require the inclusion of an important piece of their rotation in Patrick Beverley.
Granted, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. But on a night where Horford came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season, it was impossible not to think about the looming decisions awaiting the Sixers.
That is all.