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March 12, 2019

Instant observations: Sixers sneak past Cavs despite sleepy performance

Sixers NBA
031219-JoelEmbiid-USAToday Bill Streicher/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) drives for a score past Cleveland Cavaliers center Ante Zizic (41) and guard Collin Sexton (2) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers flirted with absolute disaster for a lot of Tuesday night, but thanks to exactly one minute of Joel Embiid caring about the game, the Sixers came away with a victory. After letting Cleveland hang around for 47 minutes, Philadelphia finally closed the door on the Cavs and won 106-99.

Here's what I saw in a win that should have been and felt a whole lot better for the home team.

The Good

• Sometimes it is easy to forget that Tobias Harris has only been in Philadelphia for about a month. He slid into a role on offense without blinking an eye, shapeshifting as the matchups demand.

He has been quite alright on his own, but Harris' chemistry with Boban Marjanovic has aided him for sure. Harris has a built-in partner for pick-and-rolls, who happens to be so freaking huge that defenders struggle to get around him, clearing the lane for Harris to drive.

Contrast this with Jimmy Butler's inability to get consistent offense out of the same looks, and it's hard to believe which guy arrived here in November and which one arrived in February.

• James Ennis is one of the only guys who played well on both ends of the floor for Philadelphia. Even that comes with some needed context – he was in foul trouble for most of the game, so it wasn't exactly the cleanest night at the office.

But the same signs we've seen over the last week or so were there again on display against Cleveland. With the rest of his teammates sleepwalking, Ennis brought it on both ends, creating several second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass through nothing more than effort. He cut away from the ball, kept the ball moving on the perimeter, and did exactly what you want from a role player.

If the rest of the team had played with his urgency, it would have been a blowout. Alas, that was not the case.

• Joel Embiid played like absolute trash for the first three quarters of the game. In the final minute, he came up with two highlights of the season. The first was this putback dunk:

Moments later, he came up with a huge block at the rim that effectively put the game out of reach. Had he played with this energy early in the game, it would have been a laugher.

• Ben Simmons was the Sixers' star that I thought played with the most energy throughout the game, and I think that was reflected in the final box score. The Cavs do not have anyone on their roster who can keep up with him in transition or deal with him on the block, and he took advantage of that deep into the game.

I'm going to be honest though, I don't have more positive things to say despite the fact the Sixers won this game. They should have won by at least 30 points against that godawful Cavs team, and we should have been able to see what Zhaire Smith can do on an NBA floor. They won almost solely because they had more talent.

So with apologies to the better Simmons, that's the end of "The Good" for Tuesday night's game.

The Bad

• The Sixers knew they were up against a terrible and depleted Cleveland roster, and it showed. Instead of showing some killer instinct and running them off the floor in the first half, the Sixers came out as if they felt entitled to a win, allowing the Cavs to hang around for much longer than they should have.

Joel Embiid was at the center of this problem. I thought he actually did a nice job of passing out of the post when those opportunities were available, which can be an issue for him. But he was overly obsessed with pump faking and trying to pull off dribble moves for some reason, and he ended up booting the ball out of bounds or allowing the Cavs to knock it away in the process.

Once you're clearly having this sort of sloppy game, by the way, maybe cut down on the flashy stuff. Instead, Ben Simmons was throwing no-look passes late in the first half. Have some damn awareness, fellas. The worst thing you can give an inferior opponent is hope and confidence.

The Sixers finished the first half with 14 freaking turnovers. That is unacceptable on every level, especially when they're not coming as a product of the opponent doing anything special. Philadelphia had zero focus, and it was the only thing that kept Cleveland in the game. With the head coach stressing having a "playoff mentality" down the stretch, it is insane that they came out this flat.

• I know Zhaire Smith is probably not ready for primetime, but if the majority of the team is going to mail it in, I'm all for throwing him into the mix just to change things up. Let someone who actually wants to play get some run.

• It seems like Jonathon Simmons can't do the right thing no matter how hard he tries. It's actually a little bit sad, really. There was a play late in the first half where he dove for a loose ball near halfcourt, clearly trying to do the right thing. Collin Sexton somehow managed to come up with it with Simmons on the floor, and he hit a pull-up three with nobody within 10 feet of him.

I've never been more confident about anything than I was that he was going to miss a breakaway dunk in the fourth quarter. Lo and behold, the prophecy was fulfilled, and then he followed that play up by fouling Nik Stauskas on the possession that followed.

Sometimes trying your best simply isn't enough. That seems applicable to how Simmons' Sixers career has unfolded to date. I think it's safe to say that "The Tournament" is over in Philadelphia, and Ennis is the winner.

• Brett Brown has made it clear the Sixers want to get a look at Boban Marjanovic as the full-time backup center, and that they want to see what the extent of his issues are on the defensive side of the ball. The Cavs didn't exactly run him off the floor, not that they're capable of doing that to pretty much anyone, but they did show the same flaws we've seen Boban have for his entire career.

Channing Frye may be a more prolific shooter than some of the more traditional bigs they'll face in the playoffs, but Boban having to cover out to the perimeter on Frye exposed his lack of foot speed big time. Philadelphia gave up a bunch of open layups when those two were on the floor, and when Boban did hang around the paint, Frye got some open looks on the perimeter.

He made some of these points back on the other end, but this problem is going to look a lot tougher to solve against a team like Boston, Toronto, or Milwaukee. I'm still not convinced he's the answer at backup center.

• We discussed Embiid above a bit, but I want to underscore just how bad he was on Tuesday night. He played with very little energy on either end, made stupid mistakes he's usually better than, and played with a sort of petulance I'm not really used to seeing from him. I don't know what the hell the deal was, but that was the first time I think I can say he truly mailed it in for (almost) an entire game.

If this becomes a trend, that's when I would worry. But since this is a total outlier, we'll leave it there for now, and he did end up with 17 points and 19 rebounds despite his disinterest in the game. I just thought he looked like Will Ferrell in Old School after he took a tranquilizer dart to the neck:

The Ugly

• Based on my completely unscientific calculations, every time the Sixers wear their red jerseys they play like complete butt. They should probably banish those to the shadow realm.

• A lane violation was called on a missed free throw that would have provided a free Frosty to every fan in attendance. Jordan Clarkson made the ensuing free throw, canceling the Frosty award.

Did the officials for Tuesday's game hate fun and desserts? I can't say for sure, but I feel like the answer is an obvious yes. Respect the in-game promotion, my man*.

*You absolutely do not need to respect the in-game promotion.


Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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