Blake Griffin

Sixers-Clippers observations: Young guns help snap skid

Sixers-Clippers observations: Young guns help snap skid

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — Welcome back to Philadelphia. I mean, Los Angeles. It was hard to tell by how loud the fans for the opposing team were at the STAPLES Center. 

There were tussles, dunks and back-and-forth basketball in front of a divided crowd Monday night in the Sixers’ 109-105 win. 

• The Sixers started off hot in California. Early on, Robert Covington and Ben Simmons combined to outscore all of the Clippers 17-16. The Sixers dominated the first quarter, 36-28, as only Lou Williams was in a rhythm for the Clippers. 

• You could feel the tension brewing between Joel Embiid and Willie Reed less than two minutes into the second quarter, and it was no surprise things got chippy. Reed took exception to Embiid’s defense when he was called for a traveling violation. Embiid pointed at Reed and smiled it off, which didn’t exactly squash the issue. Quite the opposite, actually. 

On the next trip down the court, Reed pulled Embiid down by the shoulder as the Sixers’ center went up at the basket. Embiid hit the ground, bounced back up and got in Reed’s face (see video). The big men were separated and Reed was issued a Flagrant 1 foul.

• The Sixers pushed their lead up to 14 points five minutes into the second quarter. The Clippers kept chasing, though, and finished the half on a 9-2 run while the Sixers missed four shots and committed three turnovers. The Sixers led 55-53 at halftime, fueled by 19 points by Embiid. 

• The third was another problematic quarter for the Sixers, just like their last game against the Warriors. They squandered a nine-point lead with just over seven minutes to go and found themselves trailing after the Clippers went on a 12-2 spurt. Embiid scored just four points in the third. 

• This was the type of game that felt like it would come down to the buzzer. Embiid tied the game 100 apiece off a cutting layup from Simmons with 1:18 to play. Embiid tried to take the lead at the basket against Reed, who grabbed the rebound off the miss and this time drew the foul on Embiid. Reed gave the Clippers a 101-100 edge off a free throw, but Dario Saric found Covington for three on the other end. Simmons grabbed a Williams miss and drained both his free throws after getting fouled. Austin Rivers reacted with his own trey and it was a one-point game with 11.9 seconds remaining. Covington sealed the win with four free throws in the final 10 seconds. 

• Time to update Embiid’s career notables. Embiid played a career-high 36 minutes (what minute restrictions?), grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds, and scored a season-high 32 points. Covington also set a new career high with 31 points off only 12 field goal attempts. 

• Simmons continues to make double-doubles routine. He recorded his eighth of his rookie season with 22 points and 12 rebounds (see video). Simmons also put on a dunk spectacular throughout the night.

• Remember that note earlier about Williams being in a rhythm in the first? He more than doubled his scoring total in the fourth and finished the game with 31. Brett Brown couldn’t have been that surprised. Earlier in the day he said, "I’m a personal fan of Lou Williams. I just can’t believe he scores still like he scores. He really can score the ball." 

• JJ Redick, who played four seasons for the Clippers, faced his former team for the first time. He struggled on the familiar court, shooting 1 for 7 from three and 3 for 10 overall from the field (10 points). The Clippers thanked Redick with a tribute video in the first quarter. 

• Injury updates: Jerryd Bayless (left wrist), Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remained sidelined for the Sixers. Jahlil Okafor (upper respiratory) also was ruled out. Patrick Beverley (right knee), Danilo Gallinari (left glute) and Milos Teodosic (left foot) were out for the Clippers. 

• Fultz (not in uniform) joined the Sixers on the court as they warmed up out of halftime. The team may have found an unofficial addition to the coaching staff as the rookie was rebounding and assisting on three-point drills after shootaround earlier in the day.

Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

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Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

The Sixers are riding high at the moment.

They rallied last Friday for a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. It marked the Sixers’ fourth straight win, the first time they have accomplished that feat since a stretch from Dec. 29, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2014.

The victory also pushed the Sixers’ record to 5-4. That means they are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 13, 2013.

Now comes a real test. The Sixers open up a difficult five-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz.

How they handle this stretch could go a long way toward determining the Sixers’ standing around the league.

With that said, let’s break down a key matchup that might help determine the outcome of each game.

Sixers-Jazz (Backup centers vs. Rudy Gobert)
You had to know it was coming. You just didn’t know when.

Joel Embiid was ruled out for Tuesday’s clash in Salt Lake City for what was deemed “load management.” The big man has played in eight of the Sixers’ nine games to this point, and with a lengthy road trip on tap, he was always likely to sit out at least once.

That means the Sixers’ backup bigs such Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes (does Jahlil Okafor even count at this point?) will have to deal with the forceful Rudy Gobert. Gobert is averaging 13.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game this season. 

About the only thing the Sixers have going for them in this instance is that the Jazz’s balanced attack allows for Gobert to have a usage rate of only 17.1 percent.

Either way, good luck climbing “The Stifle Tower” without Embiid.

Sixers-Kings (T.J. McConnell vs. De’Aaron Fox)
This spot would have been reserved for a battle of lottery selections with Markelle Fultz lining up against the speedster Fox. However, the No. 1 overall pick is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

That doesn’t mean a battle between McConnell and Fox should be any less intriguing. 

Fox has proven to be a solid contributor early on. The No. 5 overall pick leads the Kings in points (12.7) and assists (5.0). He also averages 3.7 boards a night. Despite his sagging shooting percentages (41.2 from the field and 27.3 from three-point range), the lightning-quick lefty has provided a serious spark off the bench.

McConnell will certainly be accepting of the challenge as he relishes being a stopper on defense. He has already locked horns this season with superstars John Wall, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, so Fox will be just another high-profile name on the log.

Sixers-Warriors (Ben Simmons vs. Kevin Durant)
Ordinarily, the point guard Simmons would be matched up on is two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. But shortly into his NBA career, Simmons has proven to be anything but ordinary.

The rookie is coming off his second triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Sixers’ win over the Pacers. He also contributed three blocks and two steals.

While Simmons’ offensive ability is not at all in question, his defense will be put to the test against Durant. The supreme scorer has looked even more lethal coming off his first NBA championship. 

Durant is still pouring in the points with 25.2 a game. However, it’s his shooting percentages that have really set him apart to this point in the 2017-18 campaign. He entered Monday shooting career highs from the field (54.2 percent) and three-point range (49.2 percent).

Simmons will likely switch with Robert Covington throughout the game guarding Durant, but that would potentially mean he’ll just shift to Klay Thompson. Pick your poison.

Sixers-Clippers (Dario Saric vs. Blake Griffin)
Saric has started to find his footing after a bumpy start to the season.

But next Monday he’ll get a close look at arguably the best power forward playing the game right now.

After Chris Paul’s departure for the Houston Rockets, Griffin has completely taken over the offensive load for the Rockets. The veteran is averaging 23.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. More importantly, his increased offensive load hasn’t affected his efficiency as Griffin is scoring at a 49.3 percent clip from the field and a career-best 42.2 percent clip from long range.

The Clippers have cooled off (5-4) after winning their first four games to start the season. Still, Griffin is a legit early-season MVP candidate, and Saric better be prepared or he could find himself on one of those infamous posters.

Sixers-Lakers (Everyone vs. Lonzo Ball)
This one doesn’t need much setup. You all know the deal by now.

It started throughout the pre-draft process when LaVar Ball continually made it known that he wanted his son to play for the Lakers. After the storied franchise selected the UCLA product at No. 2, the elder Ball proclaimed on draft night that his son would also take the team to the playoffs. 

That evoked a tweet of “crazy pills” from Simmons, as well as Embiid asking Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad would have to come save him (see story).

The tweets only stoked the flames as LaVar Ball proceeded to say the Sixers need to get off Twitter and get in the gym. That didn’t sit too kindly with Embiid, who bluntly said on July 4, “F--- LaVar Ball” in a video, which drew a fine from the league (see story).

Things between the Sixers and the Ball family have pretty much calmed down since that point (unless you’ve checked out the Twitter account of Simmons’ sister Olivia in the recent past).

But expect the Sixers to try to go at Lonzo early and often in that game, with LaVar likely sitting courtside for a clear view of the action.

Best of NBA: Cousins erupts in return to Sacramento; Griffin hits buzzer-beater

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USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Cousins erupts in return to Sacramento; Griffin hits buzzer-beater

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- DeMarcus Cousins immediately scored after winning the opening tip and never stopped on the way to 41 points and 23 rebounds, and the emotional big man dominated his old team to rally the New Orleans Pelicans past the Kings 114-106 on Thursday night in his highly anticipated return.

Cousins took the crowd at Golden 1 Center on a trip down memory lane, then left them with some heartache after a spectacular performance. He waved to his supportive former home fans as highlights showed of his time in California's capital.

He hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:21 to play for a 108-106 lead and the Pelicans held on -- and Cousins finally got some help in a second-half comeback after New Orleans trailed by 14 at intermission playing without injured star Anthony Davis.

Jameer Nelson contributed 18 points with four 3-pointers with Davis sidelined with a left knee injury sustained at Portland on Tuesday. The Pelicans were down 70-56 at halftime with Cousins largely a one-man show already with 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

De'Aaron Fox scored 14 points off the bench to lead seven Kings in double figures (see full recap).

Griffin 3 at the buzzer gives Clippers victory
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Blake Griffin made a 3-pointer as time expired and the Los Angeles Clippers remained unbeaten with a 104-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Griffin, who scored 16 of his 25 points during the fourth quarter, got the ball on the left side of the floor and hit the 3-pointer just inside the line, the game's sixth lead change during the final two minutes.

DeAndre Jordan had seven points and 18 rebounds for Los Angeles, which at 4-0 is one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NBA. Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers had 16 points apiece for the Clippers.

Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 25 points during the third quarter for Portland (3-2). C.J. McCollum had 23 points, but missed one of two free throws with five seconds remaining that could have given the Blazers a three-point lead.

All five Portland starters scored in double figures. Ed Davis had 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Horford, Irving help Celtics top Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Al Horford had 27 points and nine rebounds, and the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks 96-89 on Thursday night.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points and seven assists for Boston, which avenged a loss to Milwaukee in Boston earlier this month.

The game was played at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, formerly known as the MECCA, which served as the Bucks' home from 1968 until the team moved into the Bradley Center in 1988.

The Bucks chose to play one game this season at the 11,000-seat arena to mark the franchise's 50th anniversary. The team will move into a new arena next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon added 15 apiece (see full recap).