3 observations from the Sixers’ tough OT loss to the Cavs

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Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen, left, tries to dunk against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the second half of an NBA basketball in-season tournament game, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Tuesday night brought another In-Season Tournament game to the Philadelphia 76ers‘ doorstep as they played host to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A rough start proved too much too much for the Sixers to come back from despite pushing the game to overtime.

Here are three takeaways from the Sixers’ overtime loss to the Cavaliers:

Interior issues for the Sixers

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Darius Garland (10) goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball in-season tournament game, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Although the Sixers got out into the open court and scored on the fast break, Cleveland controlled the paint on offense. The disparity in points in the paint was huge as Cleveland capitalized on Philadelphia’s lack of rim protection and outscored the home team 68-52 on baskets close to the rim.

The pick-and-roll was a problem for the Sixers to defend, especially in the first half. Darius Garland used his outstanding point guard skills to force his defender to go above the screen, which left Jared Allen open quite a few times for open lobs. Embiid was helpless in those situations because Garland is such a crafty offensive player and sound decision-maker.

Even Max Strus took advantage of the screening situation and was able to feed the Cavs’ big men for easy baskets.

Despite being a premier rim protector, Joel Embiid was pretty much abused by what J.B. Bickerstaff was able to implement in Cleveland’s offense.

Nick Nurse decisions

Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse watches during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Having a new coach can sometimes mean adjustment periods for team execution. However, because Nick Nurse has multiple decades’ worth of experience and a championship ring to match, his rotation of players and play calling has been spot on in his first year as Sixers’ head coach.

For example, if you look at the fourth quarter alone, there are two instances where Nurse seemed to pull the right levers at the right time. His decision to play Patrick Beverley instead of Jaden Springer stands out. The second-year guard and former first-round pick has been turning heads lately. Sixers fans are practically drooling over Springer’s unexpected dazzling defensive displays and ability to score modestly in reserve minutes.

Because of the situation, though, Nurse appeared to trust Beverley more when the Sixers were rallying. It paid off because not only did he help the Sixers come back with his feisty defense and unselfish play, he scored the go-ahead bucket in the final minute. This surprised a lot of people, considering who was on the floor with him.

The floater he made caused the Wells Fargo Center to erupt and showed why Nurse was correct in sticking with Beverly and keeping Springer on the bench.

The second example is the play drawn up out of the time out for the final shot in overtime. The average fan would expect Joel Embiid to get the ball and eat up the clock before taking the final shot—as was the case at the end of regulation.

In this case, the ball was inbounded, where Maxey then cut hard to the basket down the center of the lane to receive the secondary pass for a decent shot. Although he missed the potential game-winning shot, it was a brilliant play that almost won the game for Philly.

Maxey and Garland: Round 1

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland (10) drives against Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Darius Garland is good at basketball. This is an understatement in every way one can imagine. He impacted the game in a way that only he could on the Cavs roster. He ended up with 32 points, five rebounds, and eight assists on the night. He was the ultimate floor general, getting his teammates involved, and was a menace to the Sixers’ defense. It seemed like nothing could be done to stop his penetration.

Even from a long-range, he was a threat. His one three-point shot in the fourth quarter with the shot clock running down was a dagger for the Sixers, who were looking to climb back in and retake the lead. He only shot two for six, but he made one of the biggest long-range shots of the night. He also got to the foul line 11 times. He only missed once.

Ironically, during the broadcast on TNT, there was a microphone session where a conversation was recorded between himself and Tyrese Maxey. The joyful banter between the two young guards was a reminder that as hot as Tyrese Maxey has been all season, Garland is also in the hunt for an NBA All-Star starting spot.

His numbers on the season are as impressive as in previous years. The one advantage that he may have over Maxey is that he’s already been an All-Star. If Maxey does get voted in, it would be his first appearance. It is safe to say that one spot is already etched in stone. That will go to Tyrese Haliburton, who is arguably the best point guard in the league right now. So, should the other starting spot in the Eastern Conference All-Star team go to either Maxey or Garland, it would be rightfully deserved, either way.