The Philadelphia 76ers (32-15) wrapped up their six-game road trip in Cleveland on Thursday. The Sixers were looking to snap the two-game losing streak that dropped them out of first place in the East. The Cavaliers (17-30) were looking to put an end to their own three-game losing streak. The Sixers connected on 15 trifectas to power a 114-94 victory to close the road trip.
Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.
The Sixers remained without Joel Embiid (knee), George Hill (thumb), Mason Jones (inactive), and Ignas Brazdeikis (inactive). Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Mike Scott.
The Sixers announced on Wednesday night that Embiid is expected to return to play on Saturday against the Timberwolves in Philadelphia.
The Cavaliers were without Jarrett Allen (concussion), Larry Nance Jr. (illness), and Dylan Windler (sore left knee). JB Bickerstaff started Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, and Kevin Love.
The game planning for Love was questionable, to say the least. The Sixers were switching ball screens involving Love, and Cleveland was cycling through those actions until Curry was ultimately switched onto Love. That made it very easy for Love to comfortably shoot over his defender. Love ultimately cashed in on far too many open looks in the first quarter, scoring 8 points on four field goal attempts in 5 minutes.
The Sixers responded well to their less-than-professional effort on Tuesday. They were applying one-on-one pressure to their matchups from beyond half-court, setting the intensity on the defensive end. They also forced a number of live-ball turnovers as a result of active hands and recovery of 50/50 balls. Danny Green was particularly outstanding in that department, poking the ball away from the handling Cavalier in transition to ignite the same opportunity for Philly.
Curry From Way Downtown
Seth Curry kept the Sixers in the game with a shooting clinic in the first quarter. Curry hit a trifecta of triples en route to 11 points in the opening frame. It has been quite evident that the coaching staff has been in Curry’s ear about attempting more threes. He has responded quite well. He doesn’t blaze them in the same way that JJ Redick did, but his threat is as important and he is punishing excessive helpers and loose primary defenders at a high clip.
The Curious Case Of Ben Simmons
Simmons has been in quite the scoring slump over the past two weeks. Of course, given Simmons’ shot selection, an extended slump is highly confounding since almost all of his shots come within five feet of the basket. Right now, he cannot find the basket when attempting to score around the basket. The floaters and hooks aren’t falling, either. The fanbase, which views Simmons in one of two extremes, is predictably furious that he could ever go into a slump.
To me, it is troubling that he could find himself in an extended slump for the reasons mentioned above. However, it is more troubling to me that he doesn’t seem to have a concept of when to use which type of shot. He’s attempting hooks and floaters when posting up much smaller defenders. He’s attacking the rim with one or multiple defenders in the paint to cut off his angle. His aggressiveness is forced and he’s occasionally hunting unnecessary shots.
Another factor in all of this is that one of Dwight Howard and Mike Scott is often on the court with him. Howard is a non-threat from the perimeter and often only attempts to score at the rim. Scott is so hit-or-miss that defenses are willing to gamble on him making open shots. A lot of fans view Simmons’ scoring struggle in a vacuum. In a vacuum, sure, he shouldn’t be having multiple bad games at a time when he only attempts to score at the rim. But, in reality, there are factors that make it a bit more complicated than simply dunking it or laying it in.
Sexton got his all game long. However, the Sixers did a tremendous job of limiting his activity around the paint. Much of his scores were coming off of jumpers or assisted finishes at the rim. Philly was masterful in curtailing Sexton’s dribble penetration and completely shutting down Garland. Without his knifing in and out of the lane and putting pressure on the interior, the Sixers’ perimeter defense did not have to fight any urges to cave in on the lane. As a result, the lack of playmaking from Cleveland’s backcourt stalled the Cavs’ perimeter shooting in the second half. From there, the Sixers were able to take commanding lead in the contest.
Tobias Harris thought the Sixers put forth a more concerted effort to stop the duo in this game. “We wanted to show them a lot of bodies out there tonight,” Harris said. “But, really bring a lot of pressure to them. I thought, in the other games that we played, they were the guys bringing fight instead of us. So, I thought that was the biggest thing.”
“I feel like everybody does their thing to chip in and help the team win, especially coming off the second unit.”
Shake Milton had himself quite the game. After some rather down play on the road trip, Milton absolutely exploded in this game. He connected on five triples en route to a 27-point outing. Much of the hot-and-cold play this season seems rooted in responsibility overload. Milton has been saddled with primary ball-handling and playmaking duties in leading the second unit. Mind you, said second unit has struggled to produce anything on offense at various points during this season.
Milton’s being forced to make lemonade from lemons in his first real NBA season in a rotation has understandably contributed to the regression. But, in this game, he gave the Sixers everything they needed to put this game away. This is the perfect memory for Milton to store with George Hill expected to join the team soon. Milton is not a natural point guard. So, with a conductor there to spell him to more of an off-ball role, Milton should be plenty comfortable. It would not be all that surprising if Milton had a strong final third of the season coinciding with Hill’s introduction to the rotation.
Milton offered a very humble insight into how his performance boosted the bench. “That could be anybody in the second unit,” Milton said. “Tonight, it was me. I feel like everybody does their thing to chip in and help the team win, especially coming off the second unit. Whether it be Furk knocking down shots or the way ‘Tisse is able to harass the opposing team’s offense. Just constantly getting deflections and steals and blocks and things like that. Dwight, his presence. ‘Rese, when he comes in, he does his thing. Everybody has a role to play. Guys just chip in, it doesn’t matter who does it as long as we win.”
“Obviously, having Joel out, it’s a heck of a trip for us.”
The Sixers, sans Embiid, finished their six-game road trip with a 4-2 record. The two losses were rather ugly. But, the Sixers should ultimately feel some satisfaction with a plus-.500 road trip. Doc Rivers will tell you that was certainly the goal. Now, help appears to be pulling into the driveway, with Embiid expected to return on Saturday.
Rivers was quite satisfied with the results of the road trip, overall. “Terrific road trip for us, it really was,” he said after the victory. “Honest to God, I’m not lying. I told our guys that. But going forward, too. Obviously, having Joel out, it’s a heck of a trip for us.”
The Sixers (33-15) will host the Minnesota Timberwolves (12-36) on Saturday night. Tip-off is set for 8 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.