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November 03, 2015

Cavs 107, Sixers 100: Okafor shines, but LeBron proves too much

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LeBron James was one rebound shy of a triple-double, scored his 25,000th point, and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 107-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in South Philly on Monday night. Rookie Jahlil Okafor led the Sixers with 24 points, but Philly’s offense seriously faded after a 54-point first half. A late rally by the subs closed the final deficit to seven points.

Getting close to full strength, the Sixers did some nice things early but Cleveland’s overall quality and depth won out as the game went on. Here’s what I saw:

•    How about that first quarter? In all respects, the Sixers played pretty close to a perfect 12 minutes. Whether the 32-19 margin should be attributed to additional spacing, getting up for a good opponent, the Cavs playing poorly, or a combination of all three, the Sixers looked more Spursy than they ever have under Brett Brown. That was some high-level execution:

•    One of the reasons that the Sixers were able to run such free-flowing offense early on? Nik Stauskas is showing glimpses of the guy we saw at Michigan, the guy who can make plays off the dribble. Brown is giving him pick-and-roll calls here and there, and Stauskas showed some friskiness off the bounce. “Hot Sauce” finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist.

•    While we are on the subject of making plays off the dribble, Jahlil Okafor caused the home crowd to explode a couple of times, facing up and shaking Timofey Mozgov for baskets. When the Sixers’ offense slowed down in the middle of the game, it was pretty clear that they should’ve been force-feeding him the ball. Okafor (11-21) created excellent looks all night against the Cavs frontcourt, a very positive sign. He is showing the ability to win against single coverage.

•    All that said, Okafor didn’t contribute in many other areas: 3 rebounds (only one defensive), and a goose egg in assists, steals, and blocks. The lack of passing can be explained by the Cavs staying in single coverage against him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the rookie might have a few more of these games this year. Still, I think it's OK to be reasonably encouraged by Okafor's start.

•    The Sixers’ transition defense still appears to be a problem, as Cleveland registered 28 fast break points. The inability to get back on defense after missed shots makes the team’s offense even more important.

•    Hollis Thompson (3-7) and Jerami Grant (3-8) continue to struggle from the field. The Sixers need more from those guys if they want to be competitive.

•    T.J. McConnell doesn’t have a very high ceiling as a prospect, but he’s making the most of his opportunity. McConnell doesn’t look at the rim hardly at all, but he sure knows how to run an offense. His ability change speed and direction has been impressive in the pick-and-roll: 12 assists to 0 turnovers is no joke, especially against a good defense.

Up next

The Sixers will travel to Milwaukee to take on Michael Carter-Williams and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. The Bucks will get back Jabari Parker for the first time since the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft tore his ACL last December. Tip is scheduled for a little after 8:00 p.m. 

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann