LOS ANGELES, CA – In Hollywood, it’s not always easy to tell what’s real, and what isn’t.
When it came to the efforts of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons Monday, there was little doubt that the duo turned in a dominant performance. Even more, the 76ers received enormous contributions from a strong surrounding cast en route to earning a 109-105 win over the LA Clippers.
Emerging with the win in a physical, fun, back-and-forth affair, the Sixers snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Clips, and beat LA on the road for the first time since 2011.
Embiid paced all players with 32 points, and a career-best 16 rebounds, while logging a career-high 35 minutes. The double-double was his fifth of the season in 11 appearances. He also generated a revealing plus-23 rating.
Ben Simmons registered a double-double as well (his eighth this year), manufacturing 22 points and 12 boards, to go along with 4 assists.
Behind a personal-high 31 points, Robert Covington helped push the Sixers across the finish line. His 3-pointer with 33 seconds to go vaulted the visitors in front for good, 103-101. Following a pair of clutch free throws from Simmons, it was then Covington’s turn to toe the line, where he sunk the Sixers’ last 4 points.
With a season-long five-game road trip entering its home stretch, the Sixers’ triumph represented an encouraging, determined rebound on the heels of consecutive losses.
“It was big,” said Simmons. “We needed that one to get back on track. West Coast away game, it was huge.”
Just how huge, exactly?
“It was the best [win] so far, just because it was the latest one.”
As Monday’s battle reached the 2-minute mark, the Sixers’ chances of survival seemed tenuous, with the Clippers ahead 100-95. Back at the arena he called home the past four years, JJ Redick, who left the Clips this summer to sign with the Sixers, then proceeded to nail his lone 3-pointer of the night, trimming the deficit to 100-98.
For as well as Embiid and Simmons played individually Monday, they shared a key moment together with the game on the line. With less than a minute and a half to go, and the Sixers still down by 2 points, Simmons made a hard drive to the basket, drawing the attention of Embiid’s man. The move subsequently freed up the big man on the weakside, where Simmons dropped off a pass that Embiid laid in with ease to lock the tilt at 100.
The sequence symbolized a partnership still very much in its infant, yet productive, stages. Simmons believes his chemistry with Embiid will only get better.
“It just takes time,” said Simmons. “[Embiid’s] been a real beast down in the post, unstoppable really. No one can really guard him.”
“It feels good,” said Embiid, when asked Monday about his rapport with Simmons. “I open up the floor for him, and he does the same for me.”
Moments after the Simmons-Embiid connection, Covington stepped up to bury his 48th 3-pointer of the season on his 96th attempt. In doing so, the swingman flipped the score back in the Sixers’ favor.
“We’re all going to remember his 31 points, and his shot at the end,” Brett Brown said. “I’m going to look back and be reminded of how good defensively he was.”
Covington matched a season-high Monday with 4 steals. His rebound off an intentional Lou Williams missed free throw with 3 seconds to play and the SIxers holding a 107-105 advantage effectively sealed the outcome.
“I thought [Covington] had some good hands on balls, came up with a few good rebounds,” said Brown. “I thought his overall game was excellent.”
“It means a lot to us,” Covington said of the Sixers’ win. “We kind of took a leap. We understood that in order for us to finish out this road trip strong, tonight was a must have. We just made the right plays down the stretch.”
Making the right plays, especially on the offensive end, for just about the entirety of Monday’s bout were Embiid and Simmons, leaving encouraging signs short-term and long.
“They’re two of the best players in the league already,” said Redick. “Their ceiling is All-NBA, All-Star, MVP caliber players. It’s exciting to grow with them.”
In respect to Embiid, Monday’s showing was as “brutally physical,” to borrow a phrase used by Brown, as it was refreshing and reassuring. Despite still needing to rely on live game reps to get back into shape, the second-year center was performing at an ultra-high level versus the Clippers.
To Brown, the most telling of Embiid’s stats wasn’t his scoring output, but the number of rebounds he brought down, and free throw attempts he took. Those two figures each totaled 16.
“His mentality tonight was dominant,” said Brown. “I think that the physical side of it in relation to his conditioning…I think there’s more to give. I think we’re going to see even more dominance.”
Embiid was focused Monday on competing with an upbeat, joyful spirit.
“I feel like at the beginning of the season that was the thing that was missing,” he told reporters. “Tonight, I felt like I wanted to come out and have fun.”
Simmons, meanwhile, attacked the paint with relentless ferocity throughout the contest. He threw down three dunks within the first 7 minutes of regulation, while 7 of his first 9 buckets came on slams.
How much of an impact has the Aussie rookie had, Monday or otherwise?
“Where do you want to start, and how long do you have?,” Brown asked a reporter. “He’s a difference-maker, he’s a game-changer at a 6-foot-10 point guard position.
“The thing that I like the most and get excited about the most is he has barely scratched the surface, he has so much more to give, and so much more to improve on, and so much knowledge to take in about what the NBA really is.”
Simmons spoke Monday with an underlying understanding that he too realizes he’s only at the auspicious beginning of what appears to be a promising journey.
“I want to be one of the best players in the world,” said the point main. “That takes time, but it takes a lot of dedication.”
From the jump Monday, Embiid and Simmons were dialed in. Early on, it was clear Simmons would have no trouble getting wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Driving lanes were open, and he capitalized.
As much as Simmons served as an initial spark for the Sixers, Embiid started to come alive late in the first period. He notched 9 points after subbing back in with 3 minutes left, and stoked the Sixers to a 36-28 edge after one.
Fueled by Blake Griffin (29 pts, 6 reb), the Clippers charged back in the second frame, cutting the Sixers’ margin to 55-53 by intermission. LA pulled ahead by 2 points after three, and went up by as many as 6 points in the fourth quarter thanks to a torrid scoring display from Lou Williams (31 pts).
The Sixers, however, limited the Clips to just one field goal in the final 3 minutes.
“That was good defense,” said Embiid. “We want to be the best defensive team in the league. At the end of the game, we did a great job.”
And it was no mystery to the STAPLES Center sold out crowd that it was the Sixers’ budding core leading the way
Would it be too much of a stretch to tab this dunk one of the best – if not the best – of Joel Embiid’s young career?
For the finale of a season-long five-game Western Conference road trip, the Sixers will return to STAPLES Center Wednesday for anticipated match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers. Through the opening three weeks of the season, LA treaded .500, but entered Monday having dropped three straight. Lonzo Ball, picked second in this year’s draft, was averaging 9.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game.