Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers drop back-and-forth battle to Cavs

The Sixers lost their third straight game Friday in Cleveland.

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Tyrese Maxey and the Sixers fell just short Friday night of sending a back-and-forth battle with the Cavs to overtime.

Maxey missed a step-back three-point attempt over Max Strus on the game's final shot and the Sixers suffered a 117-114 loss in Cleveland.

Kyle Lowry scored 23 points, his most since joining the Sixers. Tobias Harris posted 21.

Maxey had 16 points on 7-for-26 shooting and 11 assists.

Georges Niang was excellent off the Cavs' bench, tallying a game-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Evan Mobley recorded 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Sixers were down Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise. Embiid is with the Sixers on this two-game road trip, which will conclude Sunday night against the Raptors. 

The 45-29 Cavs were without Caris LeVert, Dean Wade, Craig Porter Jr. and Ty Jerome. 

Both the Pacers and Heat won Friday to gain ground on the 39-35, eighth-seeded Sixers.

Here are observations on the team's loss to the Cavs:

Sixers stay tight despite Maxey's early struggles

In under five minutes, Harris passed his season average for three-pointers attempted per game. 

He showed no hesitation about shooting jumpers, firing four early threes and sinking two. Harris passed Andre Iguodala for fourth on the Sixers’ all-time made threes list Friday.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, it took a while for anyone else to hit a shot. Sixers other than Harris began 0 for 7 from the floor. After Cleveland opened the game sending regular blitzes at Maxey, the Sixers used their All-Star guard more off the ball and often had Harris initiate their Horns sets in the first quarter. 

That approach didn’t get Maxey into his normal groove, but the Sixers still wiped out the Cavs’ lead late in the first. Paul Reed had a nice opening stint. He blocked former teammate Niang’s corner three try, rejected Darius Garland inside, and scored a driving layup on Cleveland big man Jarrett Allen. 

Even with Maxey missing 11 of his first 13 field goals, the Sixers stayed in the game and trailed by just two points at halftime. 

Both benches in the spotlight

Kelly Oubre Jr. had a frustrating first half and watched the final 8:35 of the second quarter from the bench. 

Following a 1-for-7 shooting start, Oubre charged into Sam Merrill and picked up his third foul. He’d committed his second on a desperate, out-of-control closeout and Merrill converted a four-point play. 

While Oubre’s foul trouble put the Sixers in a tough spot, they handled the situation well. Ricky Council IV was ready to go. He defended All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell hard, drilled a corner three, drew Mobley’s (hotly disputed) third foul, and played a key part in an 8-0 run. 

In general, the Sixers’ bench provided tons of productive hustle. On the night, the Sixers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. Cleveland only had five. 

The Cavs’ second-unit sharpshooters obviously also added plenty Friday. The Niang-Merrill duo posted 38 of Cleveland’s 43 bench points.

Lowry's great outing in vain  

Just about every Lowry basket felt timely.

He drained a three to snap an 8-0 Cleveland spurt in the third quarter, then answered a Strus triple with one of his own.

Maxey was better in the second half at finding the open shooters around him, though he still forced up some unnecessary contested jumpers. His only free-throw attempt all evening was a technical foul shot that he missed.

The 23-year-old had a low moment defensively in the fourth quarter when he lost track of Niang — Cleveland's hottest player — letting him cut free along the baseline and score inside.

Lowry kept on making big plays, including an alley-oop assist to Mo Bamba (14 points, seven rebounds) and a self-created turnaround jumper just inside the foul line. Maxey then turned a steal into a fast-break layup and the Sixers seized a 113-112 edge with 39.6 seconds left.

As had been the case in their loss Wednesday to the Clippers, the Sixers were second-best in the last minute. Mobley canned a go-ahead three over Bamba, the Sixers' big man split two free throws that could've evened the game at 115-all, and Cleveland emerged with a hard-fought win.

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