CLEVELAND – At least the shorthanded 76ers showed spunk in Trevor Booker's debut.
Booker, acquired from the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the week, nearly had a double-double on a night the Sixers were without their best player, Joel Embiid, and their heart and soul, T.J. McConnell. The Sixers could have used all the help they could muster Saturday night in what turned out to be a 105-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
With just 68 seconds left in the game, the Sixers got a scare when Robert Covington fell into the stands while trying to save the ball. He suffered a lower-back contusion when his lower back and upper buttock area crashed on a metal object near the Cavs' bench before the Sixers called timeout. The small forward remained behind the bench on his back during the break in action.
"Coming out of that timeout, they're like 'Rob's still down,' " JJ Redick said. "Literally, none of us knew that he's still down. I went over there and it's scary to see your teammate like that."
Covington had to be helped off the court. He didn't speak to the media because he was having tests performed on his back after the game. The Sixers didn't disclose the results of his X-rays. He is doubtful for Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans.
"I can't assume anything," Sixers coach Brett Brown said when asked if the team can assume Covington won't play against the Pelicans. "I don't know. It seems so."
The loss dropped the Sixers to 13-12 and extended their losing streak to three games. It also marked their 11th straight setback to the Cavaliers. Cleveland (19-8) was without center Kevin Love, who has left hip soreness.
Booker, however, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, and one block in his first game since being acquired from the Nets in a trade for Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a 2019 second-round pick on Thursday.
"Overall, I think it was OK," he said. "Of course, I would have loved to win. We played hard. We fought. We competed. I felt like I could have done some thing better individually."
Booker's one downfall was a couple of blown defensive assignments. But that's understandable, considering he joined the team Friday.
Covington and Redick led the Sixers with 19 points apiece. Covington made 5 of 7 three-pointers, while Redick hit 4 of 6. Dario Saric (17 points, nine rebounds, six assists), Ben Simmons (14 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, seven turnovers), and Richaun Holmes (13 points) were the Sixers' other double-figure scorers.
LeBron James paced the Cavs with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists for this third triple-double of the season.
The Sixers were up, 96-91, after Simmons' dunk with 4 minutes, 43 seconds remaining. But the Cavs went on an 8-0 run to take a 99-96 lead on Dwyane Wade's basket with a little over three minutes left.
After a Sixers basket, Wade scored before Jae Crowder's three-pointer put the Cavs up 104-98 with 40 seconds left.
McConnell, the backup point guard, is out with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Embiid wasn't with the team because he hasn't been cleared to play on back-to-back nights. The center will, however, play in Sunday's game against the Pelicans in New Orleans.
The Sixers were happy to have Saric return to action after missing Thursday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers with a left eye laceration and a right eye corneal abrasion. He wore protective goggles.
McConnell suffered his injury in a victory over the Washington Wizards on Nov. 29. He was sidelined for the Sixers' next three games before returning to action on Thursday.
"I thought I was ready to go and it felt decent enough where I thought I could play," the backup point guard said of Thursday. "It just wasn't comfortable for me out there. I think that was evident while I was playing."
Markelle Fultz remains sidelined while recovering from right shoulder problems and Justin Anderson has been sidelined with left shin splints.
Jerryd Bayless (left wrist contusion), Redick (lower back tightness), Simmons (left elbow soreness), and Holmes (left-wrist fracture) have also been sidelined for at least one game with an injury.
Being undermanned may have played a role in the Sixers' previous two games in which they lost at home to the Los Angeles Lakers (Thursday) and Phoenix Suns (Monday). It surely handicapped any chance of an upset against the Cavs.
"Yes, I do. Of course, I do," Brown responded to being asked if he even wondered what it would be like to remain healthy. "But like, then you just move on. You come to the gym. You look at who you got and you have faith in what you got."
He acknowledged that the Sixers took a hit Saturday night. Perhaps trying to keep his squad's spirits up, Brown went on to talk about the excitement and competitive appeal of playing undermanned.
"Yes, I do think about it," he said. "Yes, at times, it does get a little bit disturbing. But that's life in 82 games."