Two teams with championship aspirations went head-to-head when the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Heading into the meeting, the Sixers were seated at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 32-13 record, while the Clippers sat third in the West at 30-16. Both teams are looking to make up for disappointing postseason exits in the Orlando bubble last year, and both have looked like legitimate contenders so far this season.
The meeting was the first of two between the two teams on the season, and it was also Sixers coach Doc Rivers first game against his former franchise after the two sides parted ways after last season. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they were shorthanded for the contest, as All-Star center Joel Embiid remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his knee. The Sixers have actually played very well without Embiid over the past couple weeks, as they had won six of their last seven without the dominant big man heading into Saturday night.
That trend didn't continue against the Clippers though, as the Sixers didn't have enough firepower without Embiid to pull out a win in L.A. Led by Kawhi Leonard (28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and Paul George (24 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists), the Clippers secured a 122-112 victory. Tobias Harris led the way for Philadelphia with 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Here's four takeaways from the Clippers victory over the Sixers.
Terance Mann was the man
On any given night, the Clippers know what they're going to get from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. With them, the question often is who else is going to step up to help that All-Star duo. On Saturday night, the answer to that question was second year guard Terance Mann, who exploded off the bench for the Clippers and tallied a season-high 23 points, and in many ways he was the difference-maker in the contest. Not only did Mann drop 23 points, but he did so in an extremely efficient manner, as he went 10-of-12 from the field and 2-for-2 from long range. In all it was an extremely impressive performance.
When the Clippers get solid performances from Leonard and George, and another player steps up like Mann did against the Sixers, they're extremely tough to topple.
Kawhi Leonard continues to haunt the Sixers
Kawhi Leonard hasn't been especially kind to the 76ers in recent years. Of course everyone remembers the dramatic series winner he hit against the Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2019 as a member of the Toronto Raptors. On top of that, he has scored over 30 points in five regular season games against he Sixers since 2017. While he didn't quite hit 30 on Saturday night, he came close. Leonard led the Clippers with 28 points in 34 minutes, and he also added four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. He was especially effective in the first two quarters of the game, as he had 19 of his 28 points in the first half. His early production helped set the tone for the Clippers, and they never looked back.
Clippers' ball movement on full display
Over the course of his career, Paul George has developed a reputation as a great scorer and a dominant defender. But against the Sixers, it was George's passsing that was on full display. George consistently found his teammates in scoring position on Saturday night, and they were able to capitalize. George finished the game with nine assists -- a number he has equaled only six other times in his career. It wasn't just George, either. The Clippers as a whole did a great job of moving the ball around and generating open looks. They finished the game with 26 team assists -- compared to just 19 for Philadelphia. In a game where most of the other counting stats were pretty even, L.A.'s better ball movement was a difference-maker.
Another night, another ejection for Dwight Howard
Sixers center Dwight Howard was ejected against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night after he got into a prolonged verbal altercation with Montrezl Harrell, and against the Clippers he was ejected again for arguing with officials. Howard plays an important role for the Sixers, and his back-to-back ejections put them in a tough spot both times, especially since he was the only available true center for Philadelphia with Embiid still sidelined and Tony Bradley now in Oklahoma City. Howard has been extremely productive in short stretches for the Sixers this season, but he clearly needs to do a better job of controlling his emotions on the court. These were only regular season games, but such antics could prove very costly come postseason play.