LOS ANGELES – The 76ers are literally a wounded team.
Thank goodness, Shake Milton is healthy.
Filling in for the injured Ben Simmons, Milton had a career game with 39 points -- his pro best -- keeping the Sixers in the game before they eventually fell, 136-130, to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Hurting the Sixers was Josh Richardson having to leave the game in the first half. Richardson became the third starter to suffer a game-ending injury over a span of five games.
The shooting guard suffered a nose contusion early in the second quarter when teammate Alec Burks backed his head into Richardson’s face. It was announced after the game that Richardson also has a concussion and was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol.
The Sixers (37-24) are already without All-Stars Simmons and Joel Embiid. Simmons hasn’t played since experiencing a pinched nerve in his lower back at the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 22. Embiid has been out since suffering a left shoulder sprain at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. Both of their injuries occurred in the first quarter of their respective games.
But after losing Richardson, it wasn’t surprising that the Sixers would go on extend their road losing streak to eight games. It was also their 14th setback in their last 16 games away from home. And it dropped the Sixers to 9-22 on the road.
Their latest setback had nothing to do with a lack of effort. The undermanned Sixers battled hard against the Clippers (41-19).
“We were talking about now that we are down our two guys, we needed to come out here and really fight, really come together and figure out how to play,” said Al Horford, who scored 12 points to go with team-highs of eight rebounds and six assists. “Do it as a group.”
In the process, Milton tied the NBA record for the most consecutive made three-pointers with 13 over three games. On Sunday, Milton made 7 of 9 threes, making his first five, to go with five assists.
He joined Dana Barros as the only players in team history with at least 39 points, 7 threes and 5 assists in a game. Barros did it twice during the 1994-95 season.
Milton, a two-way player last season who spent a lot of time in the early part of this season in the G-League, was asked if people should be surprised by his effort.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “I am going out there and hooping. I’m feeling confident and getting more and more confident as the games go by. I’m just trying to stay locked in and continue with each one.”
The 39 points marked the most Milton has scored since producing 52 while a standout at Owasso High School in Oklahoma. He said Sunday’s performance was definitely up there among his best career moments.
“But I don’t know; no moment is too big," he said. “I just try to take it as it comes. Never get too high. Never get too low. Just stick with it.”
Tobias Harris added 25 points on Sunday. Horford fouled out with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. Reserves Burks (15) and Mike Scott (11) were the team’s other double-digit scorers. The Sixers made 21 of 43 three-pointers for 48.8%.
The game marked the return to the Staples Center for Harris and Scott since the Clippers traded them to the Sixers on Feb. 6, 2019.
All-Star swingman Kawhi Leonard paced the Clippers with 30 points. Paul George and reserves Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell each had 24 points.
For the second consecutive game, the Sixers started Milton and Glenn Robinson III alongside Harris, Richardson and Horford.
The thought was that Harris, Richardson, and Horford would provide the majority of the Sixers’ scoring output.
However, the trio took a back seat to Milton.
The second-year point guard, once again, showed why coach Brett Brown has faith in him.
Harris was the team’s leading scorer through the first quarter with 13 points. But Milton was right behind him with 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting. His highlight came when he stole a pass intended for Patrick Beverley, raced up court with the Clippers pesky point guard in pursuit and delivered a one-handed left-handed dunk off the dribble over Beverley.
The scoring spree continued into the fourth quarter when Milton’s sixth three-pointer of the game pulled the Sixers within four points (123-119) with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
“To look after the game and see that he had 39 points surprised me,” Brown said. "I didn’t realize it was that volume. You knew he was having a great game. That’s why I played him almost 40 minutes.
“But to have a gut feel, sort of equal what I looking at on a stat sheet, it’s quite a performance against an NBA champion-caliber type team.”
Richardson was having a solid game before his injury, finishing with 9 points on 4-for-6 shooting in 10 minutes.
He was standing alone on the baseline before the collision knocked him to the Staples Center floor.
After getting up, Richardson went to the locker room for evaluation. He was ruled out for the rest of the game right before intermission. Teams usually monitor for concussions during tough head and/or facial collisions like Richardson experienced.
“I really feel for J-Rich,” Horford said. "I feel like he started with a lot of rhythm and had a great game. To see him go down really hurts. But at this point, we have to look at the next man. Somebody has to step in, and I think Shake, there, took it to another level.
“We need all of our guys to be ready, because our numbers are going to be called, and we don’t know how long J-Rich is going to be out for.”
Under the concussion protocol, the subject has to be symptom free for 24 hours then go through four stages. Technically, the quickest it should take to clear protocol is 4 to 5 days after symptoms are resolved.
The Sixers came close to pulling off the upset. They’ had an 87-80 cushion and momentum with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
Leonard scored a basket 20 seconds later to pull the Clippers within five points. The Sixers subbed out Matisse Thybulle for Furkan Korkmaz with 6:31 left in the quarter. The Clippers responded with a 22-5 run to take a 104-92 lead with 1:08 remaining in the third. The Clippers outscored the Sixers, 38-24, in the quarter, erasing their two-point halftime deficit.
The Sixers had a lot of empty possessions during that stretch. Brown doesn’t second-guess taking Thybulle out of the game.
“I like Alec’s scoring ability,” Brown said of Burks, who are paired with Korkmaz. "Alec gets buckets. That’s what he does. I think that we were hunting for some ways to find some hoops . I think Alec does that. That’s why he is here.