NBA in-season tournament

3 observations after Sixers battle back but fall in overtime to Cavs

The Sixers lost a 122-119 contest Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Sixers’ first overtime game of the season ended in bitter fashion.

After erasing an 18-point deficit, the Sixers fell to a 122-119 OT loss Tuesday night to the Cavaliers at Wells Fargo Center.

Cleveland's Dean Wade broke up a Nicolas Batum inbounds pass on the last play of overtime. Joel Embiid missed a game-winning jumper attempt over Tristan Thompson on the final possession of regulation.

Embiid had 32 points on 9-for-21 shooting, 13 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and two steals.

Tyrese Maxey tallied 30 points and six assists. Tobias Harris added 23 points.

The Cavs’ top scorers were Darius Garland (32 points), Jarrett Allen (26 points) and Max Strus (20). 

In the NBA’s first in-season tournament, the Sixers finished with a 2-2 East Group A record. The Pacers clinched the group Tuesday by beating the Hawks.

Though not yet technically eliminated, the Sixers' odds of being the lone Eastern Conference wild card team are extremely small. In all likelihood, they'll watch the NBA Cup quarterfinals on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. The semifinals and championship will be in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9, respectively.

Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib) remained out. The Sixers said pregame that Oubre, who returned to the practice court Monday, will be re-evaluated in approximately one week. Asked whether Oubre could possibly come back around that time, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said “there might be a chance,” provided the 27-year-old handles the progression to contact drills well. 

Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro and Ty Jerome were out with injuries. 

The 10-4 Sixers will travel to Minnesota and play the 10-3 Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Here are observations on their OT defeat to the Cavs: 

A Batum-centric first quarter 

Neither offense was near its best in the opening minutes. The Sixers began 1 for 6 from the floor and Cleveland started 2 for 8. 

Batum then played an integral part in an 8-0 Sixers run that gave the team a 15-10 edge.

Batum scored a layup following a slick cut behind the defense and drained a wide-open corner three-pointer set up by an effective pump fake. He also assisted an Embiid and-one layup by declining a potential jumper and instead dishing the ball back to Embiid as he plowed down the middle of the floor. 

On the Sixers’ next possession, they ran the same quick-hitting action that got Embiid a lay-in for the first basket of their win Sunday over the Nets. Tyrese Maxey made an elbow entry to Batum out of Horns and Embiid sealed his man deep in the paint. 

The only differences Tuesday were Batum caught the ball on the right elbow and found Embiid inside with a clever bounce pass. The big man drew a foul and then added two of his 10 first-quarter points. 

With Batum out, Cleveland went on an 11-0 spurt. The Sixers struggled to knock down jumpers around Embiid and allowed the Cavs to do tons of damage inside. Forty of Cleveland’s first 52 points were in the paint. 

There was obviously some randomness in how dramatic an early impact Batum made Tuesday, but the 34-year-old forward has legitimately been a very influential role player right away for the Sixers. Nurse got him back in to play alongside Embiid and three bench players late in the first quarter. 

New Sixers small-ball look 

The Cavs built their lead to double digits during a stretch that included a long-range jumper by former Sixer Georges Niang and three consecutive Allen buckets.

Maxey’s shotmaking kept the Sixers from falling into a deeper hole. After his fourth scoreless first quarter in the past five games, Maxey posted 12 points in the second. 

Allen picked up his third foul late in the second period. Embiid soon did too, leading to an interesting stint of small ball. Nurse had said Monday that Batum and Morris Morris Sr. still might be options at center. Those two comprised the Sixers’ frontcourt late in the second vs. Cleveland, with Batum guarding Evan Mobley. 

The initial results were positive for the Sixers. In between a De’Anthony Melton put-back dunk and a Melton and-one layup, Mobley missed a short hook shot.

However, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff then decided to go full-blown small ball as well, subbing Mobley out for Wade. His team executed much better to close the first half. Niang canned a catch-and-shoot three over Batum, Strus made a long, buzzer-beating jumper, and Cleveland headed to halftime with a dozen-point lead. 

Nurse’s experimentation was fair enough given Embiid’s foul trouble and the Sixers’ overall subpar play with conventional lineups in the first half. Still, the team’s first glimpse of that particular small-ball unit wasn’t encouraging. 

Not much went well for the Sixers over the first two quarters.

“My biggest thing ... is we’ve got to understand that’s a good team coming in,” Nurse said after the game. “Just make sure we don’t try to ease into the game. I think, on a scale of 1 to 10 physicality-wise, we were 2. And then we took it to 9 or 10 in the second half. I think it did make us have to chase the game a little bit.”

Sixers scrap through mistakes but fall short

Two more Strus three-pointers extended the Cavs' advantage to 71-53 early in the third quarter.

The Sixers fought back and pulled within eight points on a second-chance Danuel House Jr. triple, but they regularly made basic miscues and squandered opportunities in the third quarter to eat further into Cleveland's lead.

Harris, who took the Garland assignment for much of the second half, fouled the 23-year-old guard on a jumper. The Sixers survived a poor defensive possession on which Wade tried a wide-open three and then grabbed his own miss. Garland later cut backdoor past Robert Covington for a layup.

The Sixers' effort was still very strong in the face of a substantial deficit (and on the first night of a back-to-back, when their motivation could easily have waned). They scrapped for valuable offensive boards, pushed the pace, and generally played like a team that believed it could fully come back.

Down 10 points when Embiid re-entered in the fourth quarter, the Sixers made another spirited push, defending aggressively and rattling Cleveland. Two Maxey foul shots with 5:02 left trimmed the Cavs' edge to three. Embiid shot an open, game-tying jumper try off the back rim. Maxey did the same a minute or so later.

Finally, Harris drilled the three that got the Sixers back on even terms, and the teams traded baskets during a wild final few minutes of regulation. Patrick Beverley made a go-ahead runner with 16.0 seconds left — his only points of the game — but fouled Garland on the ensuing possession.

The overtime session was again packed with mini-momentum swings. After Harris sunk a clutch corner three, Allen hit a short baseline push shot to give Cleveland the lead.

The Sixers' subsequent after-timeout play broke Maxey free for a layup. His shot hung on the rim but didn't drop and Batum ultimately batted the loose ball out of bounds.

The Sixers did plenty wrong Tuesday night, but their persistence and self-belief have been fantastic foundational qualities thus far under Nurse. Even when they've caught a bad break or found themselves in a significant hole, the effort-related fundamentals have tended to stay intact.

Of course, there's a ton they can clean up and none of the above is likely to feel too meaningful after going 53 minutes and leaving without a win.

“Never a silver lining when you lose,” Beverley said. “I'm mad as s---. I wanted to go to Vegas.”

Both Beverley and Embiid highlighted Cleveland's offensive rebounding success — 14 offensive boards and 16 second-chance points.

“It’s good and bad. It just shows you that guys fight hard and they play hard,” Embiid said of the night. “We had a chance to come back and we had a chance to win the game. We just didn’t make it happen. And then in overtime, second-chance points killed us a little bit.

“So we’ve got to be all together as far as rebounding. Tonight they just killed us on the glass. Most of it was also on us, because we didn’t put ourselves in the right positions. … It’s a team effort. It’s all of us, so we’ve got to do better.”

Contact Us