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Sixers-Cavs recap: the absolute ugliest of wins

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Philadelphia was a bit short handed this evening because Al Horford was taking a well-earned load-management rest day. But they got a pleasant surprise. Back from his AC Sprain, Ben Simmons rejoined the lineup. That he was ready to go after missing just two games with the shoulder issue was very good news. And they got the win tonight. And nobody got seriously hurt. That’s basically where the good news ends.

Let’s not ignore good news! Alaa Abdelnaby on the NBCS-Philly broadcast noted that Ben was sneaking his arms into passing lanes to disrupt plays in a way that suggested he may not be protecting a sore limb. Oh right, and he did this:

They really needed Ben tonight too. They would have lost had he not been able to play.

Ruling out Horford, before Ben was active (since Simmons had been a game-time-decision) was a gamble the Sixers probably didn’t even know they were making. Ben chipped in 15 points, 6 dimes, 5 boards, and a pair of both blocks and steals. Stud.

But whoa! Who knew the Cavs would challenge them so much?! OK OK, a couple of you did. Since they did win here last November too when they were the worst team in the league at the time. But C’MON!

After the first half, the offensive looked a bit sluggish:

But I don’t think many Sixers fans at that point were as worried as they probably wound up.

I mean this thing got seriously ugly.

I don’t want to pull any punches here. Yes, Al Horford is a crucial component to this lineup. He’s a very very very good player. And one of the most underrated players (career-wise) that I can think of. And I’m old enough to compare him to guys like Tony Kukoč.

But without him, the Sixers looked sort of...well... talent deprived. Joel Embiid is great. Ben Simmons is a star and will also look better when he’s 100 percent. But then there was everyone else. And it wasn’t pretty. It was rough.

Tobias Harris looked like he was playing for the other team. He was that bad for most of this game. Something is wrong. He hasn’t been taking many 3s, and tonight he almost appeared to attempt to correct that, then pressed, then missed every shot he took outside the arc. And he tried 11 times. Eight points on seventeen attempts. When things were at their worst he was passing on attempts to drive then turning it over and also fouling at the other end. I heard a couple of boos at one point on the telecast.

Brett Brown has his work cut out for him. He needs to help some players who are good play like they’re not awful. And apparently it won’t always be easy.

OK. But a bit more good stuff. In the first half, Matisse Thybulle returned to the rotation:

Thybulle certainly is capable of wreaking a bit of havoc on an opposition’s offense. And we were treated to that in the first half. He hit his one triple and was credited with three blocks and two steals! What a freak defensively! But when the Cavs went on a big run and took a lead with less than a period to go, he certainly wasn’t someone Coach Brown felt he could rely on in crunch time. He sat down the stretch.

With just over three minutes to go, the Cavs led by 5 points and it looked grim.

The Sixers weren’t getting to the line. Coming into the game at around league average (15th in free throw attempts per game with around 24 tries) in that department they wound up with just 13 attempts.

So with all this misery, how on earth did they win? Tobias Harris dug extra extra extra deep and said ‘ok, screw it, my shots off. I’m gonna crash the glass and bully some mouse in the house.’

He snagged an offensive board and put it in, with a little authority. Marc Zumoff said that both he and the Sixers needed that one in the worst way. The Sixers then forced a crucial stop. And on the other end, despite his abysmal shooting, Harris took a 17 footer without hesitation. I was impressed he even considered taking a jumper at the time because of the way he’d been shooting. I play pickup hoops and if I shot like he did tonight (which I have many times) I eventually prefer to pass or drive. And I’m never on television with the extra stress. He somehow stayed zen and made the right decision and hit perhaps the biggest shot of the night. Credit to his intestinal fortitude. Just a play later, Harris catches a pass after a Richardson-Embiid pick-n-roll and floats a soft lob to Joel for the go-ahead jam over the outstretched hands of a helpless Kevin Love. He got a soft double-high five from the Cameroonian superstar that said “we got this now, don’t worry, good job.”

Harris had looked like a basic night against a really bad team was somehow too big for him. He battled his inner demons. And he found his way out of it. It’s very impressive in an unnecessarily gut-wrenching way, isn’t it?

Anyway, Kevin Love missed the game winner and somehow the good guys eeked out this game we wish was forgettable but weirdly wasn’t.

Other observations:

Brett Brown was impressive tonight. Yes his team kind of stunk and he deserves some responsibility there. But a coach cannot make the easy looks go down for players. And once he saw how ugly things were, he made some lineup adjustments, and drew up some plays that led to crucial crunch time buckets. He got his guys to dig in and deliver. The “adult in the gym” award as he would say goes to him tonight. Ring that bell brother Brett.

Philly shot just 44.9 percent from the floor and 8-38 from downtown. Come. On. Man. But they got 24 assists, 8 steals and 8 blocks. Coach Brown has talked about how he’d like the identity of his team to be: play defense, and share the ball. They did those things. Maybe he’ll add “not stink on offense vs. crummy teams” to his crucial tenets.

Anyway, I’m out of words and you’re tired. They got it done. That’s the biggest thing.