Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid

The Sixers (2-0) closed out their weekend back-to-back with a trip to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland on Sunday. Fresh off a victory against the Knicks in New York, Philly was looking to move to 2-0 on the road and 3-0 on the season, but the Cavaliers stood in their way. With Joel Embiid missing the game due to back tightness and, perhaps, taking the opponent lightly, the Sixers were not prepared for the Cavaliers. Cleveland came out ready to send a message, and punched the Sixers in the mouth in a 118-94 drubbing. 

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, who missed the matchup with back tightness. Doc Rivers turned to Dwight Howard to fill his spot. Other than that, Philly’s opening unit remained the same. After the game, Rivers claimed that Embiid was a “late scratch” from the contest. Rivers stated that it was not a concern going forward. He added that the team didn’t see a point in “chancing it this early in the season”.

The Cavaliers were without Dylan Windler (fractured left hand), Matthew Dellavedova (concussion), Isaac Okoro (left foot sprain), and Kevin Porter Jr (personal). They started Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr, Kevin Love, and Andre Drummond.

First Half

Tobias Harris continues to be more decisive with the ball in his hands, knocking down a pair of triples off the catch and getting to the free throw line early in this game. Coach Rivers has reiterated a need to get Harris comfortable with making quicker decisions. Harris is a better scorer when he allows his instincts to kick in and his brain to do less work. Fascinating would be a Tobias Harris who becomes an instinctual playmaker, although he will neither be the beneficiary of enough touches nor be given the role to be a prolific playmaker off the dribble.

One might also just chalk up that Harris simply isn’t good enough of a player to be an effective playmaker off the dribble. That wouldn’t be an unfair proclamation, as Harris is a relatively poor passer and commits countless turnovers solely because he doesn’t utilize jump-stops. Still, if he becomes a better scorer when he doesn’t overthink, it might follow that other areas of his game develop themselves if he is given the leash to produce plays with a quick trigger. I touched on this previously, but an undeniable factor in Harris’ up-and-down play is Joel Embiid’s presence and usage on the floor. Embiid’s need for touches in the post clogs the lane for Harris, and it clouds his decision-making.

The Ben Simmons Jump Pass Returns

Ben Simmons showed some regression to old habits in the first half. There were a number of plays in which Simmons got himself into the paint but then became timid. Those plays typically foster themselves in his jumping with nowhere to go and looking to make passes that don’t exist. When that happens, the Sixers become a team characterized by volume turnovers, and that spells transition opportunities for opponents. That affliction reared its ugly head on Sunday, as Simmons committed four of the Sixers’ eleven first half turns.

Seth Curry looks remarkably unsure of himself within this offense right now. He often finds himself on the perimeter, conflicted as to whether he should be shooting open looks with defenders closing, attacking those close-outs, or making the extra pass. He missed a number of shots short in the first half, and tried to turn himself into a playmaker off the dribble on numerous occasions. This early, it might be that he’s trying to figure out his spot within this group. If this continues, Rivers might have to simplify his job so that he can find some effectiveness.

As ugly as the first half was, the Sixers found themselves trailing by just fourteen points headed into the break.

Second Half

Dwight Howard found himself in foul trouble very early in the third frame, and Doc Rivers had to resort to some small-ball combinations in the second half of regulation. Howard has a history of early foul trouble. While some of those calls are, perhaps, quick-trigger whistles, the big fella is in a role in Philly that makes it much more important for him to stay out of foul trouble. With their experienced big man observing from afar with foul trouble, the deficit swelled to 26 points thanks to nine Philadelphia turnovers in the third quarter. Philly trailed by as much as 32 points in the fourth quarter.

Mike Scott At Center

One of the small combinations Rivers tried featured Scott as a stretch-five. However, Andre Drummond looked to take advantage of an Embiid-less paint, and he overwhelmed Scott with his size and length. On the offensive end, the Sixers went with a heavy dosage of pick-and-pop play. With Scott’s streakiness, however, Cleveland was willing to give him space from beyond the arc, thus negating the gravity that pick-and-pops are intended to have. Scott picked up where he left off last year, hitting on occasion but missing badly more often than not.

Ben Simmons At Center

The Simmons minutes at center are an experiment that can work in moderation, especially when shooters are collectively hitting on any given night. However, he will often get overmatched by bigger, traditional bigs in a half-court setting. On the offensive end, Simmons can function as a quick-burst, sharp-cutting roll man off of screens.

The issue there is that he doesn’t always read the defensive positioning appropriately, and such was on display on Sunday. Simmons would set screens and miss that the bigs were leaving him lanes to the rim. Instead of making them pay by slipping to the basket, he misread the opportunities for easy buckets. Those slip-screen identification opportunities are easy points that cannot be missed in those under-manned contexts in which Simmons is asked to play center. After the game, Simmons touched on his mindset as a center: “You know, I got to just get in my positions for the plays, whatever we’re in. Continue to be a leader on the floor, move the ball. But, you know, still be aggressive, still attack, you know. If I get a rebound push it out and find my guys.”

The Sixers will host the Toronto (Tampa Bay, for the 2020-21 season) Raptors on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM, EST.