Clippers can't keep up with 76ers in James Harden revenge game loss

There was little love lost when James Harden forced his way out of the City of Brotherly Love last November.

When Harden refused to show up during the preseason then refused to play in the regular season, the 76ers swallowed hard and sent the former MVP to the Clippers in a seven-player deal that arguably changed the fortunes of both teams.

“He got what he wanted,” former teammate Joel Embiid said.

On Sunday, the teams met for the first time since the trade. And even with Embiid, the reigning league MVP, home recuperating from knee surgery, the 76ers got a measure of revenge, spoiling Harden’s reunion with a 121-107 victory at Arena.

Harden did his part, finishing with 12 points and a game-high 14 assists, giving him 38 in his last three games. But with five players scoring in double figures, led by Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, who had 24 apiece, the Clippers never led, seeing their modest two-game winning streak end while their troubling losing streak at home was extended to four games.

Maxey has benefited more than any other Sixer from Harden’s departure, averaging more than 25 points a game while chasing career highs for games, starts and minutes played. But for Clipper coach Ty Lue, the trade has mostly been forgotten for both teams.

“That was a long ago. The season’s so long,” he said.

However he was glad it happened just the same.

“We’re just happy to have James and everything he’s doing here for us,” Lue said. “I’m not quite sure what happened in Philly. I just kind of focus on what he’s done here for us.”

What Harden has done for the Clippers is lead the team in minutes per game and assists, taking them to the brink of a second straight playoff appearance. He’s made forward Kawhi Leonard better and allowed Lue to use Russell Westbrook off the bench, where he thrived before fracturing a bone in his left hand earlier this month, sidelining him for 12 games.

The 76ers, meanwhile, entered Sunday having lost seven of their last 10 and will finish with their worst record in at least seven seasons — which is why Harden is likely to get a rude welcome when the Clippers open their second-longest trip of the season Wednesday in Philadelphia.

At one point the well-traveled Harden, who has played for five teams, said he hoped to retire in Philadelphia. But after an early playoff loss last spring Harden had a falling out with Daryl Morey, the 76ers’ president of team operations, and said he’d never play for the team again.

The Clippers and Harden have clearly moved on. With valuable sixth man Norman Powell returning from a left-leg contusion to score 20 points in 25 minutes and Westbrook expected back soon, perhaps in time for Monday’s game with Indiana, the Clippers are as healthy as they’ve been in weeks.

The slumping 76ers, meanwhile, played Sunday without Embiid, who was leading the NBA with 35.3 points a game when injured the meniscus in his left knee. Philadelphia has gone 10-15 since the center went to the sidelines in January.

But Philadelphia, closing a three-game West Coast trip in a matinee start, were a different team Sunday. With Harris scoring the first seven points of the game, Philadelphia ran out to a 17-point lead early in the second period, making eight of 10 three-pointers and doubling the Clippers up on the boards.

With Leonard scoring the final six points of the first half — a half that included a Harden air ball from behind the arc — the Clippers cut the margin to seven by the intermission. Then a trio of three-points by Paul George early in the third quarter — the first off an assist from Harden — pulled the Clippers even three times, the final at 73.

Turnovers and fouls stalled the comeback there and the Clippers never got closer than five points in the final quarter.

Leonard matched Powell with a team-high 20 points while George finished with 18. But the Clippers shot just 48.2% from the floor, missed 18 of 28 three-pointers and turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 17 Sixer points.

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