76ers

Trash talk, tussle fuel Joel Embiid to career night in win over Clippers

Trash talk, tussle fuel Joel Embiid to career night in win over Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is no stranger to trash talking. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, even his best friend Nerlens Noel have been on the receiving end. They’ve all brushed it off. Willie Reed, not so much. Their hostile interaction was in the heat of the moment and neither were laughing. 

“I just wanted to go inside, especially against [DeAndre Jordan] and I don't know, what's his name? But that boy fouled out,” Embiid said in a walk-off interview after the Sixers’ 109-105 win over the Clippers on Monday night (see observations).

That player whose name just happened to slip Embiid’s mind was Reed.

The tension between the two bigs began less than two minutes into the second quarter. Reed did not approve of Embiid’s defense on him at the basket when he was whistled for traveling. Embiid reacted by pointing at Reed and smiling. 

That smile didn’t last long. 

Only seconds later, Embiid went up for a basket on the Sixers’ following possession. Reed pulled him down by the shoulder, sending the 7-foot-2, 280-pound center to the floor. 

Embiid bounced up and quickly got right in Reed’s face (see video). Their teammates and officials intervened before it went any further. The refs called Reed for a Flagrant 1. The Clippers’ reserve big man ended up fouling out with 23 seconds remaining in the game.

“He just did what he had to do,” Embiid said. “He was fouling me and he got a [flagrant] because he couldn’t guard me.”

Embiid thrives in situations like this. He’s not shy to initiate the banter, but if someone else does it first, he doesn’t object. Embiid was fueled by the exchanges and put them toward a career-high 36 minutes, career-high 16 rebounds, and season-high 32 points (see highlights). It was a bounce-back effort after scoring just 12 points against the Warriors on Saturday. 

“I love when guys come at the beginning of the game and start talking trash,” Embiid said. “It gets me going. That’s what I’ve been needing the past couple games and I think it got me going, too. They were being aggressive and that’s how they get in foul trouble and that’s how I do my job.” 

Embiid made 16 trips to the free throw line, a place he has said he wants to live this season. He connected for a season-high nine free throws.

“Embiid is a tough player,” Doc Rivers said. “He just drew foul after foul. He got [Jordan] and Willie in foul trouble. That tells you how good he is.” 

Still, Embiid had to be careful about getting wrapped up in the emotional side of the matchups. His tussle with Reed happened with 10:38 remaining in the first half. He could have let the incident get the best of him, but he collected himself and stayed focused the rest of the night.

“He walks that fine line, doesn’t he, of getting engaged, getting into the game,” Brett Brown said. “I thought that he did a really good job of staying on the side of the fence that didn’t produce anything harmful for the team, a technical or something like that. 

“He used his spirit and he used his sort of swagger to help motivate himself and us. He was dominant tonight. He wanted the ball. He was physical. Brutally physical at times. I thought his attitude stayed on that fence. He didn’t cross that line.” 

As for Embiid’s approach to keeping his cool, well, it’s simple. 

“I mean, I don’t want to get fined,” he said. “So just stay calm.”

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).