CLEVELAND — Two things became blatantly obvious Sunday night.
The 76ers lose a lot when Joel Embiid doesn’t play. Secondly, the Sixers need to be more consistent with their shooting, taking care of the ball, and their defense.
Sunday’s poor play combined with Embiid being sidelined with what the team dubbed back tightness led to a 118-94 setback to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
On this night, the Sixers (2-1) looked lost against undermanned Cleveland. The team was playing without Kevin Porter Jr. (personal reasons), Isaac Okoro (sprained left foot and health and safety protocols), Dylan Windler (left hand fracture), and Matthew Dellavedova (concussion). Then Kevin Love left in the first half with a right calf injury and didn’t return.
But it didn’t matter as the Cavs (3-0), who were coming off a double-overtime win the night before, went on to build a commanding 26-point cushion in the third quarter. Their lead stretched to 32 points in the fourth quarter. Sixers looked more like a team trying things out in a preseason game as opposed to a team coming off a 20-point victory the night before.
Let’s just say Embiid’s presence was missed.
Cavs center Andre Drummond had his way, finishing with game highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds to go with three steals.
But Embiid’s absence didn’t come as a surprise.
It came after coach Doc Rivers declined to reveal Embiid’s status for the game on Saturday night or during Sunday’s pregame media availability. The Sixers had a knack of not playing Embiid on consecutive nights. The term load management was usually used when he missed a game.
Saturday’s matchup in New York and Sunday’s game against the Cavs marked the Sixers’ first back-to-back situation of the young season. The NBA will fine teams $100,000 if they rest players from nationally televised games who are found to be healthy.
Embiid kind of leisurely warmed up before the game while players for both teams were in the locker room. At one point, he was listed as active, but not starting. But right before the game, Embiid was ruled out.
“I never know the answer to that because I’m not smart enough to get into those guys’ heads,” Rivers said when asked if Embiid’s absence impacted the Sixers. “You know it always affects you a little bit, because we assumed he was playing and it was a late scratch. So late that we couldn’t even add the extra big.”
Ben Simmons thinks Embiid being a late scratch could have led to the Sixers trying to do too much.
“But that’s on us,” he said of the miscues. “We’ve got to lock-in and play better.”
Rivers never thought his first season in Philly would be easy. He’ll tell you the Sixers are building a foundation.
“You don’t do that overnight,” he said before the game. “I love how we’re playing. I love with the right spirit that we are playing. But as I told them [Saturday] night, just because you are playing with the right spirit, it doesn’t mean you are playing right yet.”
The Sixers need to work on being more consistent, emphasizing repetition so things become second nature to them and have more people step up when Embiid doesn’t play.
Tobias Harris paced the Sixers with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooing, including going 4-of-6 on three-pointers in three quarters of action. However, the rest of the Sixers combined to shoot 8-of-31 on three-pointers.
The Sixers’ shooting has been hot and cold in all three games.
“That’s OK, you know, they just have to keep shooting,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we have great rhythm yet. So I’m really not that concerned about that. It’s three games and we won two of them.
“I’ll take two wins. We didn’t play well tonight. I’ll take that loss.”
Simmons finished with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
However, he only attempted one shot in the second half. That came on a dunk with 7 minutes, 30 minutes remaining.
Meanwhile, the Cavs scored 35 points off the Sixers’ 22 turnovers, of which Simmons had six. Failing to make stops, the Sixers struggled on defense.
“There was just too many stretches where we weren’t locked in offensively,” Simmons said.
He also noted that the Sixers’ defense gave up too many easy buckets and weren’t physical enough.
The Sixers failed to win consecutive road games for the first time since beating the New York Knicks on Jan. 18 and then the Brooklyn Nets two days later.
But for the most part, since he got to Philadelphia on Oct. 1, Rivers has been all about teaching.
“Right now, not only teaching individuals, but you’re right, you are teaching team units together,” Rivers said of being asked if he finds himself playing the starters more together as a way to gel. “You know it’s funny. I think one of the more overdone things is the starting lineup, because they don’t actually play that much together when you look at the minutes.”
Furkan Korkmaz left the game in the fourth quarter after appearing to suffer an injury near his midsection. Rivers said he wasn’t sure what happened, and he would probably know more on Monday.