3 Observations as Maxey, Niang Help Sixers Overcome Slow Start to Beat Cavaliers

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to five games with a come-from-behind 125-119 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a packed house at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers with 33 points, tying his season-high, on 10-of-15 shooting from the field to go along with four rebounds, five assists and two steals. He continues to flourish playing alongside James Harden, who put together a relatively quiet 25 points and 11 assists. Joel Embiid added in 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The Cavaliers were led by Darius Garland, who finished with 26 points and a ridiculous 19 assists. The Cavaliers had three other players finish with over 20 points, including 22 from Isaac Okoro.

The Sixers' offense shot the ball well, connecting on 54.7 percent of their shots from the field and 42.4 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc.

The Sixers travel down to Miami to take on the Heat on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back. The win moved the Sixers to 39-23, just two games behind the Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference. Here are three observations from the win over the Cavaliers:

Sixers' brutal defense in first half

The Cavaliers came out on fire, making their first nine shots and opening up a 20-11 lead with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter. The Sixers' defense was porous for much of the first half. The Cavaliers were able to get wherever they wanted, and they punished the Sixers inside the paint. Thirty-eight of their 71 points in the first half came from inside the paint.

The Sixers usually are a solid defensive team, but the Cavs made it look like Swiss cheese in the first half. They shot 61.9 percent from the field and had five different players score in double figures, led by Isaac Okoro with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. Kevin Love and Cedi Osman both killed the Sixers from three-point range, combining to shoot 5-of-8 from deep in the first half.

The game looked like it was going to get away from the Sixers, with the deficit building up to 18 points with 6:15 to play in the second quarter. Harden got into foul trouble, committing his third foul with 8:31 left in the second quarter.

Not only were the Cavs getting whatever they wanted offensively, but they also gave the Sixers some issues with a zone defense. The ball movement was slow but, unlike other times earlier this season, the team adjusted and started getting into a rhythm towards the end of the first half.

The Sixers ended the half on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit down to eight points heading into halftime. Tobias Harris played with more decisiveness and aggression. He went into halftime with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and played a big role in helping lower the deficit in the second quarter. He has been struggling to adjust to playing with Harden, and his play in the first half was a great sign as he continues to adapt to the team's new-look roster. He finished the game with 15 points and four rebounds.

Shake Milton received some playing time due to Harden's foul trouble and took advantage. He scored eight points in the second quarter and finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. Head coach Doc Rivers should move Milton ahead of Furkan Korkmaz in the rotation. Korkmaz has been struggling lately and Milton is providing much more for the team right now. Rivers once again made the adjustment mid-game to run with Milton over Korkmaz, and it is about time for him to do that from the outset of the game.

Niang's big night plays huge role in helping turn the game around

Georges Niang continues to show how valuable he is for the Sixers this season. When the Sixers were struggling against Cleveland's zone defense in the first half, Niang came up clutch with multiple big threes.

He continued his hot shooting into the second half, knocking down a pair of threes to help the Sixers swing the momentum in the third quarter. His three-point shooting is key for the Sixers, and it showed up in a big way against the Cavaliers.

He finished the game with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range. He is one of the team's best outside shooters and his willingness to let it go from deep is incredibly important.

However, he is not solely an outside shooter. He showcased his ability to score from inside the paint, making a floater to give the Sixers their first lead of the night, 94-93 with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter.

It was a great night overall for Niang, who also recorded a nasty block on Cedi Osman early in the fourth quarter. Rivers showed a huge amount of confidence in Niang, choosing to have him out on the floor in the final minutes of the game.

Maxey continues to impress, dominates in the second half

For the second consecutive game, Maxey took over in the second half. He scored 24 points in the second half and continued to shoot the ball incredibly well from three-point range. The Sixers outscored Cleveland 62-48 in the second half, and Maxey's dominant performance was the x-factor for the Sixers.

I think it is safe to call Maxey a star at this point. He has improved in leaps and bounds from his rookie season, and the addition of Harden has further helped him improve his offensive abilities.

He carried the Sixers' offense for huge stretches of the second half. He scored 14 of the team's 16 points from the 10:08 point of the third quarter to the 4:44 mark of the third quarter. Playing off the ball has really helped Maxey, who has been on fire from three-point range since Harden debuted with the team.

He shot the ball 5 of 6 from three-point range against Cleveland. When his three-point shooting is on like it has been over the past four games, he is incredibly hard to stop. His combination of improved three-point shooting, speed and ability to finish around the rim is lethal.

The Sixers' defense was also much improved in the second half. After allowing 71 points in the first half, they locked things down and gave up only 48 points in the second half. Their offensive explosion – led by the trio of Maxey, Harden and Niang – helped lead the team to the win over the Cavaliers.

It was a good win overall for the Sixers, who moved to 4-0 in the Harden era. However, the slow starts will eventually come back to haunt them and is something that needs to be addressed moving forward.

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