The Clippers’ winning streak appeared done within Friday’s opening minutes.
It took until the final seconds in Philadelphia to finally extinguish their seven-game run.
Down 17 points early in the first quarter against the owner of the Eastern Conference’s best record, a 76ers team energized by the presence of most-valuable-player candidate Joel Embiid, the Clippers rode Paul George’s hot streak and the encouraging performances by a pair of reserves to trail by just three with 9.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia had a foul to give but didn’t use it, allowing forward Marcus Morris to get off a potential tying three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left that clanged, a rare miss on a night when the Clippers made 19 of 39 three-pointers.
The miss preserved Philadelphia’s 106-103 lead that ended the Clippers’ three-game road trip with a busted streak.
George, who missed the morning shootaround because he felt sick the previous two days, played 39 minutes and scored 37 points while also leading the Clippers with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.
Morris added 15 points. The revelation of the night was the play of backup forward Patrick Patterson, who scored a season-high 18 points.
Embiid finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds.
An injured knee sidelined Embiid during the teams’ first meeting March 27, but in his six games back he has averaged nearly 30 points and nine rebounds. The Clippers (39-19) guarded him with a second defender in the first half, with fleeting success as he scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. When they tried single coverage in the third quarter, a mix of either Ivica Zubac or Morris, he added 13 more points.
And still, despite trailing 20-3 within the game’s first four minutes, then seeing their work to trim the lead to five in the second quarter devolve into a 12-point halftime hole, the Clippers were down only four entering the fourth quarter.
The rally began with George, who had 32 points through three quarters to clinch his fifth consecutive game scoring at least 30, but couldn’t have sustained without Rajon Rondo (10 points and eight assists) and Patterson, who made four of his first six three-point attempts and finished with a season-high five.
During a critical four-minute stretch to begin the fourth quarter with George resting, the Clippers’ reserves outscored the 76ers by three to cut the lead to one by the time George returned with 7 minutes 41 seconds left. The Clippers took just their second lead on Morris’ turnaround jumper with 4:56 to play, which led 76ers coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout.
It looked as though the shot would be the high-water mark of the Clippers’ comeback after Philadelphia reeled off a 12-4 run to lead by six with 47 seconds to play. Instead, after a layup by George, a dunk by Morris and a corner three-pointer by Reggie Jackson, the Clippers trailed by only one with 21 seconds to play.