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SIXERS WIN: Embiid’s Backup Centers Lead the Sixers to a Comfortable Victory over the Clippers

The Sixers are basically unstoppable.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

AWWWWWW YEAHHHHH. What an incredibly fun win for the Sixers, as they overcame some ridiculously hot first half shooting from the Clippers to stroll to an easy 121-110 win without Joel Embiid. It was a tale of two halves for the Sixers, as they looked well on their way to a blowout loss at halftime, but they managed to close the game on a 63-32 run as they pulled away mid-way through the 4th quarter and never looked back.

This was a full team effort, as nearly everyone showed their strong points— a necessity without Embiid. Still, JoJo’s two backups, Nerlens Noel and Richaun Holmes, were undoubtedly the headliners of this win. Holmes kept the home team in the game during a scorching Clippers’ first half, and Nerlens brought the team home. Their final lines:

Nerlens: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 8-10 FG, 3-3 FT
Richaun: 18 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 8-11 FG

After struggling the last few weeks to find his form, Nerlens came through with an awesome second half showing tonight. He was everywhere on both sides of the court, showing off his underrated vision, utilizing his outlier mobility and athleticism, to both protect the rim and get there in efficient fashion.

Meanwhile, Richie Holmes put up the most Richie Holmes line in history, as he was hyper-efficient and hyper-energetic, but his rebounding deficiencies shone through. Still, he was exactly the tonic the Sixers needed to remain in the game during a first half that saw the Clippers shoot an absurd 12-19 from deep. Without Holmes, the team would have been too far gone to come back, and his finishing capability was what kept the team in the game.

The Sixers went into the half down nine almost entirely due to unsustainable shooting from the Clippers. Jamal Crawford made four threes in eight minutes, Austin Rivers couldn’t miss, and JJ Redick was JJ Redick. Taken together, it meant a 68-point half for the bad guys, the worst defensive half of the Sixers season. Luckily, thanks to Holmes’ resilience, the Sixers were in touching distance heading into the second half.

That’s not to say the Sixers were bad in the first half. The ball movement was there and, despite the gaudy score, their defense was perfectly fine as well. They were taking better shots than the Clippers and missing, while the Clips were taking impossible off-the-dribble 3’s and draining them at an absurd rate. There was reason to hope, even if it felt bleak.

Almost immediately, it looked as though this would be the same old Sixers-sans-Embiid. The Clippers went on a quick run to push the lead to 18 (19? I think it was 18. Whatever.), and Brett Brown called a quick timeout to stem the flow. From that point on, it was all Sixers, all the time, and it was one of the most fun halves of basketball I can remember watching with this team.

That second half run began with Dario, who has had a miserable couple of games since his standout 4th quarter against the Raptors last week. Dario has a bad habit of swinging wildly between world-beater and dumpster fire, and lately, he’s been an awful lot of the bad kind of fire. Even including that Raptors game, Dario had been 4-31 from the field in his last 4 games, and it looked like he was headed that way again today.

Then, he turned that ship around and set the world on fire (the good kind this time), as he single-handedly dragged the Sixers back into the game. Days like today, you can see why Sam Hinkie bothered to wait two years for his arrival in Philadelphia. He was aggressive on the boards and active on defense (although limited by his physical tools), and his elite passing shone through. How many 6’10 power forwards can drop dimes like this?

And while his impact has been severely hampered by his poor finishing this year, Saric made up for it today by getting to the free throw line consistently, where he shot 8-9. The more confident he gets, the more he’ll be able to tap into his outlier skills, and the bigger impact he’ll have on the game. Today was a glimpse of what it could be like having Saric at his best and in his prime.

From that point on, the Sixers were in control of the game. They continued slowly chipping away at the Clippers’ lead (aided by some wonderfully air-balled free throws, courtesy of none other than DeAndre Jordan), and never looked back once they went up 100-94 with 6 minutes to play. Jordan’s foul-shooting issues forced him off the court, and the Clippers’ defense fell apart without his rim protection shoring up their over-aggression. It was a layup line from that point on, and the Sixers cantered to an easy win.

It was a true team effort, and a game that was an absolute blast to watch. Kings’ pick swap, here we come!

Some notes:

  • Nerlens has struggled on defense more than expected this year, and had a couple bad lapses to begin the game. But when he’s on like this, there’s no denying that he’s worth locking up and into a vital role for this team. In addition to the obvious rim protection and disruptive defense, he has seriously underrated passing and vision for a center. In back-to-back possessions in the second quarter, he put together beautiful backdoor bounce passes for an easy TJ McConnell look, one of which resulted in a 3-point play. Sign this man, BC!
  • Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot took some time to adjust to the physicality and athleticism of the NBA, but he’s beginning to turn a corner and the glimpse he’s giving us into his future is tantalizing. He’s got excellent lateral agility, size, and length on defense, and he plays with enough intensity to really bother opposing ball handlers— hounding them in the open court and navigating screens well. As he gains more comfort on offense and learns how to attack closeouts better, he’ll become a real two-way weapon.
  • Covington was Covington tonight, as he was, again, the best perimeter defender on the team, creating 3 steals and 2 blocks, rebounding like a big man, and showing off his improved cutting and vision. The shooting is still not there, but when he gives you so much else, it’s hard to be mad about it.
  • I pointed out the rebounding issues because this might have been the ultimate Richaun Holmes line, but he was truly awesome tonight and was a ton of fun. This was a great reminder that it’s really hard to justify keeping him on the bench if he’s consistently productive whenever he gets real run.
  • Blake Griffin played for the first time since his knee injury, and it really did look like his first game back. He showed off some nifty passing, reminding us all that he’s a star with some awesome skills, but he struggled to score efficiently, shooting only 3-11 from the field. Had he not been the beneficiary of some BS superstar foul calls, his 12 points might have been even lower.
  • Poor Luc Richard was Tony Allen-ed by Brett Brown in the 4th quarter, as Brown allowed Noel to play a free safety role by having him ignore Mbah a Moute. It was a nice reminder that, while he was an important contributor to that 2014-15 team, Mbah a Moute doesn’t matter to this team.
  • Sergio managed to be a +22 tonight, but it was largely due to his playing with others who carried the load. He’s starting to bum me out, as his ill-timed pull-ups and poor outside shooting torpedo possession consistently, and it’s frustrating to see him pass up open 3’s for a contested mid-ranger. While his signing certainly involved some clever, outside-the-box thinking this summer, it’s starting to look like a real loser.
  • Henderson and Ilyasova were both fine tonight. Henderson managed to ruin a beautiful possession of ball movement with an air-balled, wide-open 3, but was otherwise solid in his regular role. Ilyasova wasn’t particularly on, but only attempted 9 FG’s, so it wasn’t as harmful as he can sometimes be when he’s off. Solid games from both.
  • The elephant in the room here is Jahlil Okafor. The team is now 8-5 with a point differential of +2.4 in games in which he does not play, and 8-22 with a point differential of -8.0 in games in which he does. It’s also rather concerning that he can’t seem to fully recover from a knee injury suffered last March, despite the team communicating its scope as being relatively minor and the frequent amount of rest he’s received since then. Should the Sixers seek to move him, these are two alarming data points that will certainly concern any interested parties.
  • Go, Sixers! This was awesome! Remember how painful watching this team was the last few years?! Me neither.

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