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Sixers doomed by flat start in OT loss to Cavs

The Sixers picked up the defensive intensity in the second half and forced OT, but a brutal first half sunk them in a loss to the Cavs.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It’s the In-Season Tournament, Jerry!

The Sixers quest for the cup looks to be at an end as they fell 122-119 to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night.

Joel Embiid bounced back from a rough first half to put up 32 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five blocks before fouling out at the end of overtime. Tyrese Maxey had a 30-point night as well but came up short on a game-tying attempt.

Cleveland’s other All-Stars stepped up in the absence of Donovan Mitchell, as Darius Garland went for 32 points and Jarrett Allen put up 26 points and 13 rebounds.

Here are some thoughts at the buzzer.

First Quarter

  • Embiid was pretty good from the opening tip, but it was Nico Batum who got Philly’s offense going early. He got himself open for a cut for Embiid, knocked down a corner three and found Embiid on a give-and-go in transition. The sequence was a textbook example of the value he brings to a team.
  • In a similar situation to Sunday’s first quarter, the Sixers got no production from the rest of the lineup. After Embiid and Batum the rest of the team opened the game shooting 1-of-11 from the field before Robert Covington knocked down a three around the two-and-a-half minute mark.
  • Philly’s interior defense didn’t get off to a great start either. Twenty-four of the Cavs’ 27 first-quarter points came in the paint. Many of those points came on fairly easy lobs and layups. Cleveland just looked like the quicker team to start the game, and held a three-point lead after the first because of it.

Second Quarter

  • It feels like Tobias Harris’ decision making has slowed down a lot on offense the past couple of games, and that can lead to him falling back into some old habits. He settled for a few turnaround 14-footers, none of which were clean looks against the Cavs’ lengthy front court, and only got up a pair of threes in the first half.
  • Philly’s defensive woes continued as they continued to get hammered in the paint, specifically struggling to defend pick-and-rolls. It was the easiest time Jarrett Allen’s had against Embiid in his career, putting up 14 points in the half. Embiid only made his life harder for the rest of the night when he picked up his third foul with just under three minutes left in the half. It’s at this point in the recap it’s worth pointing out the Cavs were without Donovan Mitchell.
  • The only bright spot in the quarter for the Sixers was Maxey, who once again came alive after a scoreless first. Cleveland did a good job taking away his floater, but he was still able to find some success getting to the rim and from downtown. Even with his 12-point quarter, the Sixers went into the half down 12.

Third Quarter

  • The Sixers really could have used a quick run to start the half, but everything went Cleveland’s way early in the third. Batum just got his hands on a ball long enough to reset the shot clock for the Cavs and Max Strus took advantage of that by burying a three. Philly cobbled together a couple good offensive possessions, but an Embiid pass that found the court-side seats instead of Maxey halted that momentum.
  • Embiid’s effort level, particularly on defense, was notably higher than it was in the first half, as his two blocks would indicate. While keeping Darius Garland in front of them remained a challenge, the Cavs not getting any layup they wanted helped Philly make a dent in the lead.
  • Nick Nurse played around with the rotation over the weekend, giving Maxey the entire third quarter as well as Embiid. This might’ve been another night to try that with how much the rest of the offense was struggling and the Cavs threatening to run away with the game.
  • The quarter did end with another good burst of Robert Covington minutes. He forced two steals which resulted in fast-break layups at the end of the third. The defensive effort from him and Embiid was all that was keeping the Sixers in the game, they went into the fourth quarter somehow only down nine.

Fourth Quarter

  • Another rotation wrinkle this year is that Embiid generally has been able to sit for half the quarter before going in to try to close it out. The second unit minutes weren’t bad tonight, but they were just trading baskets with Cleveland. Nurse went back to Embiid with over eight minutes left in the quarter, down 10.
  • It’s not surprising to anyone but the Sixers chipped away at the Cavs’ lead from the charity stripe. They took 13 free throws in the quarter, most of them coming from Embiid. Harris finally knocked down a three to tie the game after what felt like an entire quarter of bricks.
  • Nurse continued to mix things up as Batum picked up his fifth foul with seven minutes left, bringing in Patrick Beverly for some high-leverage minutes, and they went surprisingly well. He had a big offensive rebound and a steal, and it was the first time Garland had any resistance all night. He also hit a go-ahead floater with 16 seconds left, just like everyone expected.
  • This team hasn’t had a ton of last-shot opportunities so far this year. Tonight was the first real look at that. Embiid elected to just isolate with 13 seconds, taking an elbow jumper, which did not fall and the game went to overtime.

Overtime

  • Just like the first four quarters that came before it, the extra period of basketball was chaotic. Philly looked way more tired, as they were hoisting up jumpers. Cleveland was also getting to the rim again as Embiid was sitting on five fouls. He would foul out with nine seconds remaining.
  • With a chance to take a lead, Nurse drew up a great play to get Maxey an excellent look at the rim. Maxey’s layup came up short and Embiid was unable to convert a tip in. Batum was able to get a hand on the ensuing rebound, but batted it out of bounds. Garland sank two free throws to essentially end it.
  • The Sixers will head right back on the road as they are in action tomorrow night. They’ll take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at 8 p.m. ET.

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