After dropping two straight in bad taste, the 76ers came into the matinee in Cleveland looking to rinse their mouth of it. On top trying to stop the skid, Joel Embiid called this a “revenge” game after the Cavaliers unexpectedly handed the Sixers their first loss at home a few weeks ago. Hopefully the 76ers would exorcise both demons.
Spoiler alert: They did. But, it wasn’t without the usual ‘Sixersing’, especially in the first half.
The only certainties in the world are death, taxes and the 76ers struggling to defend on the perimeter. I mean, when you’re up against a world-beater like Matthew Dellavedova, sometimes you just have to concede that you’re going to get carved up... or something. No disrespect to Delly, but the 76ers have had this issue all year and it will continue to haunt them against better competition. The roster construction has dictated most of this as the Sixers have to play multiple poor defenders at the same time. They have multiple one dimensional players or specialist that become ineffective to deleterious when that one thing isn’t working. Furthermore, they just lack size and athleticism.
Thankfully, the Cavaliers lacked some of the punch that surprised the Sixers a few weeks ago. With Tristan Thompson out, they did not have to worry about getting roasted on the boards as well. The 76ers were able to take control heading into halftime and did not look back, extending their lead in the fourth, enough for a few minutes of garbage time for the bench guys.
I buried the lede here but Ben Simmons was sensational today, putting together an effortless triple-double (his third of the season). How effortless? Can I interest you in 22 points, 11 boards and 14 assists, while committing 0 turnovers? No one on the Cavaliers could check Simmons, especially while in transition. Add in some great outlet passes and some zips while operating out of the post, it was a good showing for the Prince.
It’s noticeable, however, that Simmons is still feeling out how to work with Butler and Embiid (and vice versa). Quite a few times in the first quarter, anytime Simmons or Embiid found themselves in the paint with the ball, the other somehow ended up right next to them. Adding post-ups to Simmons’ repertoire is fine, especially for someone who isn’t effective from the perimeter. But, learning how to not step on each others’ toes (and create proper spacing among the 3) is still a learning process.
Either way, the 76ers rebounded from a 2 game skid to take the first half of a back to back. They now travel to San Antonio to take on LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs.
Odds & Ends
- I very much enjoy looking at Joel Embiid’s boxscore and exclaiming, “When did he score all those points?” Embiid put up a quiet 24 points and 9 boards in only 29 minutes. Getting some rest on the first half of a back-to-back will lead to better results tomorrow.
- After missing two games with a groin strain, Jimmy Butler returned and had himself an equally easy game. In 25 minutes, Butler put up 19 points, shooting 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. Something to note was that Butler did not look very involved early on, getting maybe one touch with the starters at the beginning of the game. As mentioned, Butler, Simmons, and Embiid really have to form chemistry on the fly. Butler is probably the easiest to work with considering his style of play. Shooting >40% beyond the arc is one way to do that.
- Landry Shamet is shooting flames right now. After going 8 for 14 from the trey over the last 3 games, he poured in another 4 for 5 performance.
- JJ Redick has been struggling of late. I’m not so sure some of that seems to be coming from tired legs. For as much as the guy runs around, there is going to be some drop off. Combine that with the natural drop off due to his age and we’re seeing a guy that is going to be burned out by the post-season.
- Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler are depth guys. They did depth guy things. Thankfully they ended up being positive contributors. But this point and the last leads me to my biggest point.
As a caveat, some of this may come off as ‘concern-trolling’, but it’s an honest feeling that I’ve had for quite some time.
I’ve noticed that there was a negative tilt on my recap as I was writing it. The win is great and watching the team succeed is enjoyable. But, the issues with this team gets harder to ignore by the game. Given the expectations and goals of this team being closer than they have been in years, it’s difficult to overlook their struggle. When Embiid and/or Simmons carry the team through periods or as Jimmy Butler has to hit step back jumpers over lesser tiered teams, you wonder why the team has to grind out wins. It’s not that the Sixers go through struggles, it’s how and why the team go through it.
The easy and obvious answer is that they’re running an uneven, playoff-sized 9-man rotation in the regular season. They have 3 star players and supplemented them with a supporting cast that mostly can’t defend. Part of it is by design (their roster construction/the Butler trade) and part of it is due to unexpected circumstance (injuries/Fultz). But the biggest issue right now is that the team isn’t being proactive about things.
I want to give them some slack because swinging the Butler trade does change the calculus. However, how this regime operates the margins is and has always been dumbfounding. They invested in quite a few specialist players without size or athleticism. They have had an open roster spot for weeks and refuse to fill it with even a body to just soak up minutes. No disrespect to the players, but they’ve wasted 2-two-way spots on guys that would have been the 4th or 5th on their guard depth chart. Add in Brett not giving guys run, even with the lack of depth, and it’s just a troubling picture.
When you have 3 great players, you can float a bit and let their greatness carry your team. But when you’re experiencing such depth and fatigue issues in December, how do you expect to find success in May or June?