Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Sixers (32-13) wrapped up their stay in La La Land with a date with the Clippers (30-16). They were looking to push their winning streak to five games. The Clippers were looking to push their own winning streak to six games. A poor defensive showing from the Sixers dealt them their first loss on their current six-game road trip, 122-112.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers remained without Joel Embiid and George Hill (recovery from surgery on right thumb). Before the game, the Sixers provided updates on both players. Embiid is progressing through his rehab and has begun on-court basketball activities. He is currently ramping up his conditioning. His status will be updated as appropriate.

Hill will begin on-court activities in the coming days. His status will be updated as appropriate. 

Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Mike Scott.

The Clippers were without Patrick Beverley (sore right knee) and Serge Ibaka (tight lower back). Tyronn Lue started Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., and Ivica Zubac. 

First Half

When it rains, it pours for Mike Scott. While Green and Harris were knocking down their perimeter looks, Scott continued to struggle from distance. There was also an early play in which Scott recovered the ball but stepped out of bounds, negating the goodness of the high-effort play he had made.

The Sixers seemed to avoid the notorious ‘LA nightlife’ hangover that can plague visiting teams on either end of the court. But, they failed to build their early lead past ten points because of what I like to call tomfoolery. A slew of bad passes, loose dribbles, and poor transition defense enabled the Clippers to get right back into the game before the hole grew to a point of concern.

Transition Defense Hurts The Sixers

Bad transition defense isn’t as simple as not getting back to prevent run-outs. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t try to convince you that the Sixers don’t sometimes dog it in transition. But, even when they don’t, they have a tendency of making poor decisions.

One of their common mistakes is over-committing to the first pass. Of course, you want to stop the basketball at all costs. They teach you that in grade school. However, you have to assess the environment in transition. There are times when the opposition is running a three-man fast break and the Sixers give the corner for the sake of committing to the first pass. What that does is make it easy for the offense to pull the defender in and then swing it to the corner for a wide-open look. Obviously the offense has the advance in transition. But, the Sixers allow far too many open looks off of run-outs.

Dead Eye From Deep

There is no one in the world that is seeing the basket better than Green is from the corner. He continues to be absolute dynamite from either pocket whenever the extra pass on the whip-around comes his way. What’s more remarkable is that his lightning quick release allows for such consistency. From the time of the catch to the release, the ball is in his hands for well less than a second. It’s very difficult for the primary defender to recover to him on cross-court swings, so they’re forced to take a step or two back towards him to mitigate the risk. ‘A step or two’ doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to create a line to the rim. That, my friends, is the essence of spacing.

“But now just being able to show up more and more, when those opportunities come to get the ball mid-post, block area, it’s just time to operate down there.”

Tobias Harris was dominant in the first half. When I say that now, it’s not just that he’s having a hot night. It’s that his skill and preparation lends itself to him being automatic when he gets to his spots. On Saturday night, he was abusing smaller matchups in the post, and he showed his All-Star snub colors with 17 points in that first half.

Harris talked about the importance of practicing shots he’ll actually take in games throughout the season. “Just the whole preparation and day in, day out those are spots I know I could get to, those things I work in,” Harris said.

“I work on my game all season long, especially in the offseason. So, it’s no surprise in that area. I’ve had that part of my game for the longest. But now just being able to show up more and more, when those opportunities come to get the ball mid-post, block area, it’s just time to operate down there. So, anything that’s gonna help our team and allow our team to win games and be efficient, that’s what I work on. I think it’s that element of my game, especially the way the game has gone and being able to create mismatches on the floor is big to go to those types of moves.”

Second Half

It seems Simmons has fallen into a bit of a slump lately. It hasn’t been quite as ugly as the one with which he opened the season. But, he’s reverted to some of the indecision that plagued him early. On drives, he’s stopping at the nail on a dime and looking to pass out of the attack. When those passes equate to three-point deposits, the issue can sometimes fall by the wayside. But, when the buckets don’t drop and those inexplicable stops completely stall the offense, it’s brutal.

To his credit, he’s limited some of those bouts and has been fairly consistent over the last two months. But, he needs to get to a point where he’s never questioning himself. Simmons is far too strong and fast to have physical issues preventing him from getting to the rim. It’s about self-conviction that he cannot and will not be stopped. If he discovers that mindset and consistently keeps it in his head space, he will be a whole different animal.

“I thought they got everything they wanted. I thought they lived in the paint, which created shots.”

The Clippers were able to pull away in the third quarter with terrific ball movement. The Sixers really struggled to put together consistent possessions of strong defensive rotations. As a result, the Clippers were able to generate a ton of open triples by getting into the lane, and they cashed in on eleven of those looks.

To sit here and act like it’s a major problem that this group had one poor showing on the defensive end against a very good Clippers team would be relatively unfair. They’ve been superb on the defensive end of the floor ever since the All-Star break. I’ll call it what it is–a poor defensive performance. But, I won’t get all rah rah about something that has been a consistently dominant positive for this team. 

Rivers spoke about his team’s defense against the Clippers after the loss. “Just thought their size bothered us, switching bothered us. Five technical fouls in a game that you’re playing one of the best teams in the West, so those are the things that can’t happen,” Rivers said. “It’s funny, you look at them, we shot 50 percent. But, we allowed them to shoot 53 percent. I thought they got everything they wanted. I thought they lived in the paint, which created shots. So, fixable things.”

“It means a lot of guys were frustrated tonight and a good defense will do that to you at times.”

Dwight Howard was ejected for the second consecutive game. He’s in his mid-thirties and, at this point, is what he is. He has a history of ejections and is known to get hit for some questionable fouls. But, he has to be more composed at times. In this situation, he’s the only true big on the roster until Embiid returns. Getting ejected makes his team extremely vulnerable.

Having said that, the officiating in the NBA has gone down the drain. I harp on this all the time because I believe there needs to be accountability for garbage officiating. The whistles won’t even let Howard play. He gets called for something on what feels like every third possession. When that happens, it’s virtually impossible for him to do his job.

Rivers touched on Howard’s second consecutive ejection after the game. “I think he is a pro. He understands that,” Rivers said. “We always talk about technical fouls as a group. We just did right after the game. I didn’t single out Dwight, honestly, I just said, ‘as a team, we had five’, which means more than one guy was frustrated. It means a lot of guys were frustrated tonight and a good defense will do that to you at times.”

The Sixers (32-14) will head to Denver to play the Nuggets (27-18) on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 9 PM EST (thank goodness). You can catch the game on NBA TV and NBC Sports Philadelphia.