Three observations after Sixers lose dramatic, controversial game in Harden’s return

By | March 28, 2024

Three observations after Sixers lost dramatic, controversial game upon Harden’s return originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

James Harden’s first game in Philadelphia since his trade from the Sixers had no shortage of drama.

Trailing the Clippers 108-107 with 5.1 seconds left, the Sixers won a jump ball at center court. Kelly Oubre Jr. drove into the paint and came up empty, although Sixers head coach Nick Nurse was in disbelief that a foul wasn’t called on the play.

The nurse was furious after the final whistle and did not hesitate to express his displeasure at the no-call.

Ultimately, the Sixers fell to 39-34 on the season and the Clippers improved to 45-27.

Tyrese Maxey recorded 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Paul George was the Clippers’ leading scorer with 22 points. Harden had 16 points and 14 assists.

The Sixers were backed by Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone contusion).

Nurse said before the game that he thinks there is “a very good chance that (Embiid) will return before the play-in and playoffs.”

As for Covington, Nurse said the 33-year-old forward has “made some progress.” He called Melton “not that close yet,” but Nurse said he was still hopeful that both Covington and Melton would also return before the end of the regular season.

The Sixers now have nine regular season games remaining. They play five of their next six on the road, starting with a game Friday night against the Cavaliers.

Here are observations about their loss Wednesday:

The Sixers defense is starting in high gear

No one expected Harden to receive a warm welcome.

Indeed, he was loudly booed during the introduction of the starting line-up and whenever he touched the ball.

Those boos turned to cheers when Harden missed his first two three-point attempts and caught a George pass with his foot on the sideline. George and Kawhi Leonard also left their match early. The Clippers’ star trio started off 0 for 6 from the field.

The Sixers defense was outstanding in the first quarter, holding the Clippers to 18 points. The team’s ability to defend physically and stoutly in post-up and isolation situations without mistakes was especially impressive. Mason Plumlee was the only Clipper to attempt a free throw in the opening quarter.

In addition to solid one-on-one work, the Sixers were also strong in helping each other and implementing nurse plans. The Sixers forced a Clippers shot clock violation on a possession where they got help in the direction of a temporary Leonard vs. Maxey mismatch in the post shadowed and then scrambled around effectively late in the shot clock. The next time he was down, Oubre made an offensive foul on George.

On the other hand, Maxey was actually the last Sixers starter to score a game after scoring his team’s first 16 points in Sacramento. He hit a hard finger roll at the first quarter buzzer to put the Sixers up 30-18.

Maxey‘s presence is much needed

Maxey powered through the opening 15 minutes and showed exceptional defensive energy at the end of that stint.

Although Harden converted a four-point play on him, Maxey made many positive defensive plays. For example, he prevented Russell Westbrook from getting any separation on a drive, held him tight and knocked down his shot.

Maxey’s effort set the tone. The Sixers outplayed the Clippers in the first half, regularly beating LA with loose balls and offensive rebounds. Despite shooting 4 for 17 from three-point range in the first half, the Sixers maintained the advantage at intermission.

However, that lead was only four points. Cameron Payne couldn’t repeat his stellar performance from Sunday in the Sixers’ win over the Clippers, and LA found some momentum with Maxey out. George and Leonard still couldn’t get on track, but Harden scored a pair of buckets in transition, including an and-one layup and a three. He drove and kicked the ball to Amir Coffey for a wide-open triple on the Clippers’ final play of the first half.

When Embiid is healthy and the Sixers are in a tight battle, it often seems like everyone is counting down the seconds until he comes on again. That’s not unusual now for Maxey, who played 44 minutes on Sunday and did the same on Wednesday evening. His presence is often very important.

Leonard drags Clips to win the play

Predictably, George hit a pair of three-pointers early in the third quarter and the Clippers took a 56-55 lead.

The Sixers responded with a 6-0 run, including a Mo Bamba tip-in and a Bamba layup. The big man posted his first double-double as a Sixer, tallying twelve points and eleven rebounds.

Buddy Hield also showed up late in the third quarter, making two threes and a driving layup at a time when the Sixers desperately needed to lighten the offensive load on Maxey. The Sixers’ All-Star guard also created some great shots, confidently dealing with a variety of defenders and coverages.

Still, the Clippers remained powerful and dangerous. Harden threw a long-distance pass to Leonard for a dunk that cut the Sixers’ lead to 91-89.

The Sixers’ role players ended up making a good amount of money around Maxey. Nicolas Batum made sure no one forgot he was part of that Harden deal, too, by drilling two huge corner threes and blocking the All-Star’s 10-play layup attempt in the fourth quarter.

Nevertheless, the match remained tight and tense. Maxey slipped on an outside line play with 61 seconds left, leading to a Sixers turnover. They also coughed up the ball on their next inbound play, and both miscues hurt.

Leonard made an and-one layup to put the Clippers up 105-104. After a Hield three, the two-time Finals MVP somehow did it again.

With the game on the line, Oubre drove into Leonard and saw his layup attempt get stuck between the rim and the backboard. Officials confirmed that call after review, paving the way for the dramatic, controversial final scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *