The Philadelphia 76ers had their worst performance of the season, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-85 on Wednesday night. The margin of defeat was their largest of the season, but even that does not signal how bad of a performance this was for Philadelphia.
Nothing went right for the Sixers, who shot just 41.6% from the field and 23.1% from three-point range. Joel Embiid finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The Sixers continued to be without James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Jaden Springer (right quad strain). However, Harden is reportedly expecting to return to the lineup within the next week.
The Cavaliers were heavily shorthanded. They were playing without Jarrett Allen (back contusion), Kevin Love (right thumb fracture), Ricky Rubio (left knee ACL surgery), Dylan Windler (right ankle sprain) and Lamar Stevens (non-COVID illness).
Despite being without a slew of players, the Cavaliers had their way. They shot a red hot 60.8% from the field and 51.7% from three-point range. Caris LeVert led the way for them, scoring 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting off the bench. Darius Garland added in 21 points and nine assists.
The Sixers currently sit at 12-10 on the season. Their next game is a road matchup on Friday with the Memphis Grizzlies. Here are three observations from what was truly a brutal loss.
As has become typical in recent weeks, the Sixers offense continued to run the offense through Embiid. They utilized a heavy dose of pick-and-roll. De’Anthony Melton opened up the scoring, knocking down a mid-range pull-up jumper after coming around an Embiid pick-and-roll. Embiid did not get into the scoring column until the 3:58 mark of the first quarter, but he still made a big impact. He dished out assists on each of the team’s first three buckets of the night, including a P.J. Tucker three-pointer from the corner.
Embiid’s improved playmaking has been a positive so far this season. He did a good job looking to get others involved early on, dishing out four assists in the opening frame. However, it appeared as if Embiid was looking too much to set up others in the opening quarter. He is a dominant scorer above all else, and looking to attack should nearly always be his main focus.
The Sixers got off to a 9-2 start, but Cleveland responded in force. The Cavaliers went on a 14-0 run to build up a 16-9 lead with 5:30 remaining in the opening quarter. The Sixers were playing hesitantly and not attacking the basket. On the other end, Cleveland found success inside the paint. Sixteen of their 25 points in the first quarter came from inside the paint.
The Sixers came into the game with the league’s best defense, giving up just 105.8 points per game. They were also the best team at defending the three-point line, with their opponents shooting a league-worst 31.7% from beyond the arc. Things were completely different against the Cavaliers, who picked apart the Sixers defensively with relative ease.
The Cavaliers, as pointed out above, did most of their damage in the opening quarter from inside the paint. That trend continued into the second quarter, where they scored 18 points in the paint. LeVert and Evan Mobley dominated the paint offensively for the Cavs. LeVert made multiple crafty finishes, and Mobley was the beneficiary of multiple good dimes from Garland.
The Sixers were leaking points from all over the floor. In addition to their struggles defending the paint, the Cavaliers simply could not miss from beyond the arc. They shot 8-of-12 from three-point range in the first half. The Sixers’ poor defense could not be attributed to just one area. They were especially poor defending in transition, giving up 12 fast-break points in the first half. However, Cleveland also was just red hot and could not miss. They scored 44 points on 16-of-17 shooting from the field in the second quarter.
The Sixers had perhaps their worst game of the season defensively, but their issues were not solely on that end of the floor. Offensively, the team spent much of the night playing with little to no aggression. They failed to push the pace or to attack the basket on a night where Cleveland was without its starting center.
The Sixers could not buy a shot from beyond the arc for much of the night. The floor spacing was poor and, in the small instance the team did attempt to score inside, their touch around the basket was awful. However, one of the lone positives on a night bereft of them for the Sixers was Tucker taking advantage of Cleveland’s willingness to leave him open from the corner. He led the team in three-point shooting, connecting on two of his four attempts.
Embiid showed some brief fire, although it came more out of frustration than anything else. He was called for a technical foul midway through the second quarter after arguing the lack of a foul call. He proceeded to score six points, including a driving dunk, in the following few minutes of action.
The Sixers went into halftime down 69-48. Any chances of a comeback attempt in the second half were immediately snuffed out. Cleveland opened up the third quarter on a 11-0 run, extending their lead to 80-48. The Sixers’ first points of the quarter did not come until the 7:16 mark on an Embiid mid-range jumper. Despite some slightly improved defense, it was clear at that point the Sixers had given up.
Head coach Doc Rivers, with the team down 90-66, pulled most of the starters after the end of the third quarter. Tobias Harris, who went scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting, was ruled out shortly after the fourth quarter began with an illness.
A few things to note from the bench performance was Paul Reed having a solid night, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. Saben Lee, on a two-way contract, also made his Sixers debut. He scored four points on 2-of-3 shooting in six minutes of action.