The Philadelphia 76ers (22-11) played host to the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-21) on Saturday night. The Sixers were looking to improve their winning streak to three games. The Cavaliers were looking to do the same, although having to do so on the road, where they’re 3-12, or so one might think. The Sixers’ supporting cast could not do much of anything to cushion a 66-point combination from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and Philly coughed up a brutal loss to an undermanned Cleveland team at home, 112-109.
Before we get to the action, some notes.
The Sixers were without Tobias Harris, who is on the mend after suffering a right knee contusion in Thursday’s victory over the Mavericks. Furkan Korkmaz started in his place.
The Cavaliers were without Matthew Dellavedova (concussion), Andre Drummond (CLE holding him out for trade purposes), Kevin Love (strained right calf), Larry Nance Jr (fractured left hand), Cedi Osman (lower back spasms), Taurean Prince (personal), and Brodric Thomas (G-League assignment). JB Bickerstaff started Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, and Jarrett Allen.
It was apparent in the early-goings that the Sixers were still working off the effects of an apparent NyQuil dosage. They lacked urgency on defense and were generally undisciplined. There was a possession where Sexton was able to get Simmons on his hip and jet to the basket. Simmons would have had no problem spiking the ball off the backboard, but simply chose to concede the layup. There was another possession in which Sexton was able to get into the teeth of the Sixer defense and roam out to the corner opposite the side from which he initiated the penetration. Instead of stunting Sexton after his initial drive, there was miscommunication that left him unattended in the corner. He ultimately wasn’t able to punish the Sixers for their lapse, but the play served as a symptom of disinterest on the defensive end early in this game.
The flatness was pretty clear to Ben Simmons. “We definitely didn’t have the energy,” Simmons said after the loss. “You know, those bursts are developing. Obviously, you’re not going to have that energy all game. We got a little down time, or we’re looking for that [All-Star] break coming up, but we got to finish this first half and grind it up.”
As the season has gone on, Dwight Howard has made strides at finding favorable rebounding positions without using his hands. Early in the season, he was wrestling the opposition in efforts to physically move them out of the way. Given his reputation and frame, those wrestling moves often earned quick fouls to knock Howard out of the game. As of late, he’s made a conscious effort to box out with his legs while his arms remain free. He’s clearing out space without using his upper limbs, and it has made him much more effective. When he’s not overwhelming opposing rebounders, he’s now tap dancing with opposing rebounders around the basket and then sneaking around to the rim at the last possible moment to steal the rebound that way.
“We got to play all 48 minutes the same way.”
When all was said and done in the first half, all Sixers not named Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were nowhere to be found. The two stars combined for 33 points on twenty field goal attempts. The rest of the team combined for four shots made out of sixteen attempts. Missed shots were the primary culprit for the offensive struggles in the first half, as the Sixers connected on less than 42 percent of their field goal attempts. But, there were some unnecessary turnovers, both live and dead. The energy was clearly lacking, although I don’t know that I would blame missed shots on energy or effort.
The defensive urgency, however, was unacceptable. Simmons and Embiid both snapped out of their respective early disinterests. But, the rest of the team was offering little resistance. The Cavaliers were scoring off of their first passes with ease, and there were a number of plays in which Cleveland didn’t even need to pass in order to score. They whipped Philly in both transition and points in the paint in the first half, winning those battles by 9 and 12 points, respectively. All in all, the damage could’ve been far worse, as the Sixers trailed by just 9 points at halftime.
Embiid noticed the lack of energy, as well. “We didn’t start up the game the right way,” Embiid said after the game. “We picked it up in the third. But, overall, we gotta start the game that way. We got to play all 48 minutes the same way.”
The Cavaliers missed a comical number of shots early in the third quarter. However, the Sixers were unable to assume control of the game because Seth Curry and Danny Green weren’t cashing in on their looks. Shooters miss. That’s just part of the sport. What is concerning is that Curry has not been nearly as good as advertised from beyond the arc. The Sixers are not attempting nearly enough threes, and they’re not making enough to consistently punish opponents on the perimeter, either. Shooting depth headlined by Curry and Green simply is not going to be reliable enough come playoff time. That is not a need that should be disregarded come trade deadline or buyout season.
The Sixers’ bench put together an effort that was well-above what they’ve been good for over the last month. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much. But, Philly’s reserves were able to maintain pace with Cleveland’s bench. They only lost the scoring matchup by three points. More importantly, the bench was actually disrupting Cleveland’s offense. The Cavs missed a number of shots around the paint when the second unit spelled the first. As the season goes on and advances into the playoffs, you want to be able to rely on the second unit’s defense, even if it means the offense never quite finds itself.
“They were happy to go to overtime, and we were not.”
The Sixers ramped up their play late. But, they just couldn’t put sequences of good offense together down the stretch. As such, the contest went to overtime. In the extra session, the Sixers hurt themselves in two ways. First, they committed a number of sloppy turnovers. In a five-minute due-or-die scenario, you can maybe afford one error. Turnovers sometimes happen on the basis of players being humans. The Sixers set the tone for the extra session with a pair of turnovers to begin it. The Cavaliers executed. A 5-point deficit early in overtime put Philly under pressure before they even got a shot off. The other area that hurt the Sixers was dribble penetration. The Cavaliers were able to get whatever they wanted around the rim, and the Sixers couldn’t bring themselves to string together a run of any sorts.
Doc Rivers was quite candid after the loss. “[The team handled dribble penetration] Not very well,” Rivers said. “I thought they got there in the fourth quarter, as well. They jus missed. They missed a ton of shots at the rim in that one stretch and so we were fortunate. We had a chance to win the game, which was a freaking miracle, when you think about it, with the way we played. But, overall, especially in overtime, they had so much more energy. They were happy to go to overtime, and we were not. You can literally see it.”
The Sixers (22-12) will host the Indiana Pacers (15-16) on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.