PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nerlens Noel scored 19 points, Richaun Holmes had 18 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Los Angeles Clippers 121-110 on Tuesday night.
Here was a twist ending not even M. Night Shyamalan could have scripted from his courtside seat: The Sixers played without injured center Joel Embiid and still beat Blake Griffin and the 30-win Clippers for their biggest victory of the season.
The Sixers rallied from 19 points down and proved yet again they are now a team trying to win games instead of tank seasons.
Embiid, out with a left knee contusion, waved his arms from the bench as the crowd shouted “Trust the Process” in the waning minutes of the victory.
Griffin scored 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting in his first game since Dec. 18.
Noel had three blocked shots in Embiid’s spot and the Sixers hit 10 3-pointers to spur the second-half rally.
Griffin, a five-time All-Star, averaged 21.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists this season, and played in 26 of the Clippers’ first 28 games. He was limited to 35 regular-season games last season because of an array of injuries.
Jamal Crawford hit six 3s and scored 27 points for the Clippers. J.J. Reddick had 22.
Embiid continues to be hampered by the knee he hurt on Friday night. He’s scheduled to sit out Wednesday night’s game at Milwaukee because he does not play in one game of back-to-back sets.
The Sixers listed 17,591 at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, another stout crowd for a franchise coming off one of the worst stretches of seasons in NBA history. Embiid’s growing popularity has forced the Sixers to at least consider playing him only the home game when they play on consecutive nights.
“We are mindful that our fans want to see Joel play,” coach Brett Brown said. “It’s one of several layers that influence the decision on when to play Joel. But it’s certainly on our mind to do the right thing by our fans.”
While fans are crushed when Embiid doesn’t play, Brown said other Sixers see his absence as their opportunity to develop and contribute.
“I think those type of words come to my mind more than ‘woe is me’ stuff,” Brown said. “That’s not it. That’s not it at all. We wind our guys up and we play NBA basketball and here we go.”
Jahlil Okafor missed his chance to start and was held out with right knee soreness. Noel made the most of his first start of the season, and Dario Saric and Holmes were clutch off the bench.
The Clippers made 12 of 19 3-pointers in the first half and rolled to a 19-point lead until the Sixers got going in the third.
DeAndre Jordan missed four straight free throws — the last one on an airball — that sent the crowd into a frenzy not heard in Philly in some time. Noel finished an alley-oop and Sergio Rodriguez’s fast-break layup gave the Sixers an 87-86 lead.
Clippers: Doc Rivers did not coach the Clippers because of an illness. Assistant Mike Woodson ran the team. … Griffin had a shot blocked on a spin move in the paint by Holmes.
76ers: Shyamalan wore a “Trust the Process” shirt and visited with Embiid. Shyamalan’s daughter sang the national anthem. Comedian Kevin Hart also watched from a courtside seat. … Brown has yet to #RaiseTheCat after a 76ers win. “The Australians would be proud of it,” Brown said.
Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick, has continued to improve in his recovery from a broken right foot. Simmons, who hasn’t played this season, started light 1-on-1 drills against a 76ers D-League player.
“I’m just really happy with the path and plan we have in place for him,” Brown said.
The 76ers have held out Embiid and Noel for full seasons as they recovered from injuries. Simmons may not settle for the same fate, but the Sixers aren’t going to rush back a player they project as a cornerstone with Embiid for years.
“It’s nice and slow,” Brown said. “It’s not dramatic. It’s not anything that people should read into, here he is. It’s not that. It’s slowly building him up, very cautiously to a point where we can welcome him back, legitimately to the team.”
The Clippers are off until Saturday when they play at Golden State.
The 76ers play Wednesday at Milwaukee.