By Tommy Matthews
James Harden had 29 points and a season-high 15 rebounds and Joel Embiid added 27 points and 10 boards as the Sixers’ rolled to a 122-97 victory over the Clippers.
“We’re getting better. The one-two has to be there first. It is. The rest will follow,” coach Doc Rivers said after Philly (46-27) won its third straight to pull within a half game of the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference with a game at the Phoenix Suns next up.
It is the first time since Harden was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster trade on Feb. 10 that the two All-Stars have had a double-double in the same game for the Sixers.
“Things are headed in the right direction, but every single day we are focusing on execution and details,” said Harden, who is averaging 23 points and 7.6 rebounds since coming to Philadelphia.
“There are going to be different ways we are going to have to win in the playoffs, and we have to be prepared for that.”
Harden had a monster first and second quarter, posting 25 points and 11 rebounds. It is the first time in his 12-year career he has done that in a half.
Harden and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James are the only players in the league to have a double-double in a half in which they scored at least 25 points.
“When shots are going in, it makes it better. Tonight was one of those nights where I felt good, we got out to a big lead and the wave continued the entire game,” Harden said.
It is Embiid’s 38th double-double, which is tied for seventh in the league. He also had two blocks and a steal on what was a great defensive night for the Sixers, who blocked eight shots and forced 12 steals.
“We were in synch and focused. We played physical. We were all over them,” Embiid said.
Amir Coffey scored 21 points and Isaiah Hartenstein had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Clippers, who have dropped five straight, with the last three coming by at least 12 points.
The Clippers scored the first five points of the game before the Sixers took control with a 21-2 run in which Harden scored eight points and Matisse Thybulle added six. A pair of free throws by Harden extended the lead to 32-11 with 1:32 remaining in the first quarter.
The Clippers countered with a 17-6 run to get within 10, but Philadelphia responded with eight straight points to put it out of reach midway through the first half.
The Sixers had a 64-43 lead at halftime. Their largest advantage was 28 points during the fourth quarter.
“We were overmatched. They played well and we didn’t play our best game,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We had some chances to cut the lead a couple times. We got some rebounds but then turned it over, and then the game got away from us.”