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Sixers-Cavs recap: Showtime Shake Milton!

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers faced the Cleveland Cavaliers for a Thursday night matchup. Going into this game, I felt cautiously optimistic as the Cavs would be without two of their young cornerstones in Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance, Jr. The Cavs have had a rough go as of late, suffering seven losses in their last 10 games as they plummet towards the lottery. This seemed like an easy W to pick up after the Sixers suffered back-to-back losses.

However, I had to remind myself of the previous matchups against this team. The Sixers, for some reason (?), have struggled mightily against the Cavs this season. Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova were also upgraded from questionable to available, giving the Cavs some much-needed reinforcements.

The Sixers also went with their regular starting unit along with Mike Scott in place for the injured Joel Embiid. Scott has... struggled to say the least as of late. While there’s likely better options than Scott, I will say that it make some sense as the Cavs were essentially running Kevin Love as their stretch five.

Here’s a rundown of what we saw quarter by quarter:

1st Quarter:

We saw the usual first quarter Sixers on display tonight: looking a bit sluggish on both ends of the floor. That is to be expected to an extent, as they are coming to an end of a six-game road trip. The beginning period featured Kevin Love — who hasn’t really played a game since December — hitting his first three shots in a row. A Collin Sexton 3 prompted an early Sixers timeout as the Cavs grew their lead to 13-5.

One of my favorite plays happened early on in this quarter, with simple off-ball movement from Seth Curry. It’s so great to see him having a quick trigger. He’s a gifted shooter, and these types of shots will greatly benefit him and the offense:

It turns out that Doc’s early timeout did the trick for the Sixers’ struggling offense, as the Sixers responded with another Seth Curry 3 and Ben Simmons getting to the foul line a few times. Simmons has struggled quite a bit on the offensive end of the floor, so him absorbing contact and getting fouled was a promising development. Maybe it had to do with the headband?

Seth Curry came into this game with what seemed like a newfound level of confidence and completely torched the Cavs’ zone defense, hitting three of his four 3-point attempts in the period. The Sixers quickly went from being down eight points to being up three.

The Sixers ended the period on a good note in a lot of areas. I thought the Sixers’ defense looked great early on — the Cavs weren’t getting the same open looks that they were in the first few minutes. Ben Simmons and Danny Green, in particular, had some great defensive moments. The Sixers also did well in generating some extra looks, as they had an impressive five offensive rebounds in the first quarter.

The game remained close as the first quarter winded down, mainly due to Kevin Love having zero rust whatsoever. He was a big part in keeping the Cavs in this game, as he ended the the first frame with 13 points, with the score being locked at 31.

2nd Quarter:

I have to give the Sixers’ bench unit a lot of credit, as they started the second quarter on a strong note. They went on a quick 5-0 run with Matisse Thybulle hitting a corner 3 and Dwight Howard continuing to give the Cavs’ small frontcourt trouble with a monster one-handed putback.

I was very impressed with Shake Milton early on, as he was taking and making 3s with little hesitation, hitting two of them from the corner. Milton, who has had a mostly successful season in terms of growth, has had a down year with his 3-point shot. Adding another ball handler in George Hill should help boost Shake’s efficiency for the remainder of the season.

The second quarter wasn’t flawless for the Sixers, however. Tobias Harris managed to pick up his third personal foul around the seven-minute mark in the period, which prompted Doc Rivers to insert Mike Scott in his place.

Harris getting benched seemed to briefly shift momentum in favor of the Cavs. Kevin Love continuing to look like a 6-foot-10 Steph Curry, and a few Cavs baskets forced the Sixers to call a timeout, as their comfortable lead quickly shrank to only two points.

Ben Simmons, while being aggressive, was having a very rough half on the offensive end. Simmons did a great job of getting some early shot attempts and getting to the foul line, but he just couldn’t find the bottom of the basket. It seemed like he was settling a lot, as he even faded away from Mathew Dellavedova on a shot attempt. We’ve seen what Simmons is capable of in the past, so hopefully he gets back to his prior form sooner rather than later. He was lackluster 2-of-10 from the field as the half concluded.

Shake Milton and Seth Curry were the main reason the Sixers were up 58-56 heading into halftime — as they had a combined 29 points on an efficient 11-of-20 shooting. Both did a great job of choosing their shots, getting to their spots, and hitting perimeter shots with little hesitation.

3rd Quarter:

You can tell the Sixers missed Tobias Harris through the first half of this game, as he immediately gave the Cavs problems in the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The Cavs simply couldn’t find an answer for Harris’ finishes through the lane. This has been an area that has been overlooked in terms of his successes this year — he’s been downright great at finishing around the rim. The Sixers lead ballooned back up to seven points after a Danny Green 3, which caused Cleveland to call a timeout.

Danny Green began to come alive in the second half of this game as well. Green has been lights out since the All-Star break, and this game was no exception.

Seth Curry continued to remain aggressive as this game progressed. He even attempted his 10th 3 of the game halfway through the 3rd quarter. Nobody doubts Curry’s shooting ability, but he’s lack of willingness to attempt “semi-open” 3-pointers has been a pretty big focal point into the Sixers’ weaknesses. Hopefully he can build on this performance — he’s a talented shooter that should have the green light in any 3-point attempt. Fire away, Seth!

The Sixers managed to gain a respectable lead for the majority of the 3rd quarter, mainly due to the Sixers’ 3-point shooting. Dwight Howard also shined in this period, being a main factor and presence through many defensive possessions. One of my favorite aspects that Howard brings is his ability to generate second positions off of offensive rebounds. Teams struggle with boxing him out, and the Cavs were no different.

The Sixers had their most successful period of play. Tobias Harris was a huge spark on offense, Seth Curry continued to fire away, and the Sixers’ bench did a solid job at holding the Cavs at arm’s length. The Sixers outscored the Cavs 27-17 in the frame, giving them an 85-73 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

4th Quarter:

Shake Milton continued to shine with his perimeter shooting as the Sixers began the final frame, shooting an impressive 4-of-5 from 3. There haven’t been many games this season where Shake hunted out perimeter looks and shot the ball without hesitation — with this game being a huge exception. This type of good play from Shake can’t come at a better time, as he’ll have tons of created looks while playing next to George Hill in the near future.

The Sixers’ bench continued to excel late into this game. Not only did they manage to hold the established double-digit lead — they extended it. They even put together a really fun sequence of play:

This is the best the Sixers’ bench unit has looked. They all played within their roles, did their job, and simply ran the Cavs off of their own court. They deserve a ton of credit for putting this game away, with Shake Milton and Dwight Howard leading the way.

This was a game that the Sixers should’ve put away quickly, and they pretty much did their job. Any game where you can rest the starters an entire 4th quarter should be viewed as a huge bonus to any victory. Danny Green played the most minutes out of the starting five, at just over 26 minutes.

Here are some of the best Sixer stat-lines of the night:

Shake Milton: 27 points (10-14 FG, 5-7 3PT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, +23

Dwight Howard: 18 points (6-7 FG), 15 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, +20

Seth Curry: 19 points (7-15 FG, 5-10 3PT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, +2

Danny Green: 11 points (3-7 3PT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, +9

Matisse Thybulle: 5 points (2-6 FG, 1-4 3PT), 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks, +18

Looking ahead:

The Sixers getting a much-needed bounce back W is great, as they’re currently flip-flopping with the Brooklyn Nets for the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Sixers’ six-game road trip looks like a pretty big success, as they went 4-2 without their MVP candidate. It’s considered “good” to be .500 on the road, so the Sixers achieving a record above that without their best player puts them in a really good spot going forward. Doc Rivers and the entire roster deserve a ton of credit.

The Sixers have a back-to-back coming up this weekend on their home floor against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzles. Joel Embiid is reportedly set to play on Saturday night, assuming there are no setbacks. George Hill may or may not make his debut during these games as well.

This was a solid win that the Sixers should look to build upon. Their 3-point shooting and defense — which has been the best in the league since the All-Star break — were determining factors in this one. The team ending this six-game road trip on a high note is great, and they’ll soon have their MVP candidate back into the mix.