SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Even without Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers were scoring every time down the court.
But the Utah Jazz didn’t blink. They just gave the ball to Jordan Clarkson.
Clarkson had a season-high 40 points off the bench to send the streaking Jazz past Philadelphia 134-123 in a matchup of conference leaders Monday night despite a career-best 42 points from Ben Simmons.
“I’ve never played with anyone like JC in my lifetime,” teammate Joe Ingles said. “It’s pretty cool to play with someone that’s so locked into what his role is and so comfortable in the role.”
A leading candidate for NBA Sixth Man of the Year already, Clarkson knows his role is to score, and there aren’t many shots he’ll turn down. Nicknamed the Flame Thrower, Clarkson was so hot he didn’t want to come off the court.
“What Jordan did tonight was special,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “He and I just laughed about me telling him that I appreciate him at least hiding (his disappointment) when he comes out.”
Clarkson hit a career-high eight 3-pointers and Donovan Mitchell added 24 points to help the Jazz overcome an early 14-point deficit.
Utah (23-5) has won eight straight games and 19 of 20. Clarkson has been a sparkplug in several of those victories.
“With them saying they believe me, letting me be myself and embracing me, it plays into the whole role of who I am and that gives me even more confidence,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson set his career scoring high for a game that ended in regulation. He had 42 points in a three-overtime loss to Brooklyn on Feb. 13, 2019.
Philadelphia (18-10) was minus Embiid, a late scratch because of back tightness. Playing without his All-Star running mate, Simmons had 12 assists and nine rebounds – barely missing a triple-double. He easily topped his previous best of 34 points set on Dec. 7, 2019.
“Honestly, I’ve been working on my mentality and my mental (approach) a lot these past few weeks,” Simmons said of his newfound scoring prowess. “It’s not easy to do that, change the way you play. Certain things in the game come natural to certain people. I feel like I’m figuring it out.”
Tobias Harris had a season-high 36 points for the Sixers in a fast-paced game between championship hopefuls.
Despite all the highlights from Clarkson and Simmons, it was Royce O’Neale who made the biggest shots down the stretch. The Utah guard hit consecutive 3-pointers to quell Philadelphia’s final rally. His wing 3 to beat the shot clock gave the Jazz a 129-118 lead with 2:12 to play.
“I try and get Royce to shoot as much as possible. We played hot potato for a second there at the end trying to get him to shoot it, but we’re a really good team when he shoots the ball,” said Ingles, who had 20 points.
Simmons scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter to cut the Jazz lead to 110-104 with 8:40 left. Minutes later, he found Harris for a 3 to get Philadelphia within 113-109.
Embiid was scratched after coming out to warm up, and coach Doc Rivers expressed surprise the big man wasn’t playing. But that just cleared room for Simmons.
“I didn’t know we’d get 42 points out of him, but he did everything. He guarded, did a good job. Played with pace,” Rivers said.
The Jazz scored 10 consecutive points as part of an 18-4 run to take their first lead in the second quarter and went up 67-59 on Bojan Bogdanovic’s jumper in the lane. Clarkson was the primary driver of the surge with 21 first-half points to help Utah build a 72-66 halftime lead.
“I’m just coming in to do what Coach is telling me to do and what my teammates trust me to do and that’s to take shots and try to make plays,” Clarkson said. “That never changes if we’re up by 20 or if we’re down by 15.”
The 76ers scored on 16 straight possessions in the first half and led 24-10 but couldn’t stop the Jazz much, either.
Simmons and Harris took turns isolating and driving to the basket with a full head of stream starting from beyond the 3-point line. Utah tried O’Neale, Rudy Gobert and others but they all had trouble stopping Simmons in the paint.
Simmons had 19 points in the first quarter, his most ever in one period.
“I loved when I saw Rudy was guarding me,” Simmons said. “I feel it was a little bit of disrespect putting him on me.”
Already short-handed without Embiid, Rivers offered a night off to center Dwight Howard when he learned of a death in Howard’s family. Howard didn’t even arrive at the arena until an hour before tip-off.
“I told him he didn’t have to play, and he said, ‘Coach, I just want to get on the floor. It’s better than just sitting around the room.’ I thought he was phenomenal.” Rivers said.
Howard finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“Obviously, he’s playing with a heavy heart out there tonight. Ultra amount of respect for him,” Harris said. “It just shows who he is as a person. He’s an amazing leader.”
76ers: It was the fourth time Simmons had at least 12 assists this season. … Shooting under 60% from the foul line during his career, Simmons went 12 of 13 on free throws. … The 76ers made only eight 3s to 18 for the Jazz.
Jazz: Mike Conley missed his fifth straight game with a sore hamstring. … Ingles passed Pete Maravich for seventh on the Jazz career list with 1,845 assists. … Clarkson missed his second free throw of the season and now sits at 46 of 48. … Clarkson joined Jeff Hornacek, Rodney Hood, Randy Foye and Bogdanovic as Utah players to hit eight 3s in a game.
76ers: Host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
Jazz: Visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.