The Sixers brought their A-game against a Cavaliers team which has played excellent offense since the all-star break, holding them to 87 points. However, they couldn't take the lead late, letting opportunities dribble away (sometimes quite literally) and were scoreless in almost the final four minutes and letting the Cavs get away with a home victory 87-86.
And, as mentioned in the header, the Cavs didn't score either. From the Sixers fan's perspective, that may very well be the story. Cleveland came into the game with a top 5 offense by almost any measure, especially since a pair of midseason trades which brought J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov keyed the Cavs' defense late, while Smith and Shumpert combined to hit five threes.
But Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were, well, pretty quiet. Both finished with fewer points (20 for James and 17 for Irving) than shots (24 and 18, respectively). Kevin Love (10 points, 10 shots) didn't fare much better before recurring back spasms cropped up at an unfortunate time. Really, any time is unfortunate, but during an extended fourth quarter stretch is particularly bad.
The Sixers had a lot to do with it. Two days after Chris Paul chewed the Sixers defense up like a piece of gum, then spit it out and stepped on it, dragging it across the ground until it turned black, and tossing it into a trash can with a pair of tweezers, wrapping up the trash bag, and personally throwing the trash bag into a dumpster filled with his other victims, the Sixers defense recovered nicely against a team just as strong on offense.
It started with a bit of a shocking change, with the Sixers resuming an experiment started early in the season. Nerlens Noel, erstwhile starting center for the 76ers, moved to the nominal and schematic power forward position, with Furkan Aldemir getting the start in the middle. Coach Brett Brown made the decision before today's game that, in order to prepare for playing with Joel Embiid next year, Noel would move over a bit. The quotes below are from Brown via CSN Philly's Dei Lynam:
"For the next nine games I want to try playing him off of five men," Sixers coach Brett Brown said pregame of Noel. "I am trying to look at him when it ultimately is going to be he and Joel [Embiid].
"Joel played one-on-one out there for the first few times. We are all excited about that. I stepped back and said if the season ended now, what would you regret, and that would be that I didn't play Nerlens more at the four than I have."
If you remember the beginning of the season, Noel started alongside Henry Sims, with the same goal: comfort as a power forward when the future arrives. But Noel (and the rest of the team) struggled, starting 0-17. Noel moved off the position into being a full-time center, and the season took off, with Noel having greater comfort. Now that Nerlens has established his offense more, the team decided to reset. That makes sense. Noel finished with eight points (on 12 shots) and
It also can't hurt in the standings, but that's another issue. For all of his first half minutes, Noel played with another center. Down the stretch, Noel played center.
And it was in the second half, with both teams going small, where the Sixers defense really shined. Cleveland scored 53 in the first half and only 34 after halftime, with their aggressive help-and-recover scheme. It was truly an impressive turnaround defensively despite the loss, with an offense that's clearly still in progress.
1. Furkan Aldemir notched a double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the start, playing 27 minutes total. He did not hit a three, though he attempted one. It was amazing. He didn't play in the fourth quarter however. Sweet tank move doing that, Brett.
2. Thomas Robinson was the victim of the lineup shuffle, notching a DNP-CD.
3. The starting lineup ultimately featured Ish Smith, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Noel, and Aldemir.
4. Covington led the Sixers with 19 points and five threes. He unfortunately (or fortunately, if the tank is running on full) missed two free throws late which would have given the team a lead.
5. The Sixers have the LA Lakers tomorrow night, a big match up in the standings.
6. Check out Fear The Sword for more.