The Sixers (10-3) hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers (7-6) on Tuesday. Both teams wanted a crucial In-Season Tournament victory. The Sixers spent the entire second half fighting back after a terrible effort in the first half, and it bit them in an overtime loss, 122-119.

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Cavaliers were without the services of Donovan Mitchell, who has a strained right hamstring.

Caris LeVert has a sore left knee and was not available.

Isaac Okoro is managing a left knee injury and was out. Ty Jerome missed the game with a sprained right ankle.

Ricky Rubio is not with the team.

JB Bickerstaff started Darius Garland, Max Strus, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.

The Sixers were without Kelly Oubre Jr., who is recovering from a fractured rib.

Terquavion Smith, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.

Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.


- I go back and forth on whether fixing your own coaching mistake should be something that you get credit for in sports. But, because we inherently have to view Nurse in comparison to Doc Rivers, it's a striking difference in humility. Look no further than Nurse's quick lineup adjustments.

Whereas it would take the Sixers suffering multiple close losses for Rivers to concede that a bench lineup wasn't working, Nurse has been quick to pull the plug on his own ideas. Philadelphia was struggling to put together good possessions on offense, and that was before he authorized a lineup Patrick Beverley, Melton, Danuel House Jr., Robert Covington, and Embiid.

The outcome followed what you'd logically expect out of that group. But, rather than take that segment of minutes as an opportunity to collect data in a November game, Nurse saw what everyone else saw and put an end to the experience before things could get any worse.

He put Batum in for Melton, giving the group a bump in shooting, ball-handling, and connective passing. It didn't solve all that was failing Philadelphia, but the offense at least functioned a bit better.

- Beverley, though, was the only reason this game had any right to go to overtime. Philadelphia's 6-foot-2 defensive pest blew up a number of pick-and-rolls and passes inside in the fourth quarter, using his physicality to jar the ball loose from the likes of Allen and Mobley to get the Sixers out in transition in the fourth quarter.

Philadelphia was down by 18 points early in the third quarter. Beverley's efforts supplied the stops the Sixers needed to get back in the game, and gave Philadelphia a chance to close out a victory in regulation.


- Nurse broke out the flammable (in a bad way) Beverley, Melton, House, Covington, Embiid lineup at a time when the Sixers clearly needed a jolt of life. I thought that was a clear misfire before the group played a second in the game; clearly Nurse soon came to the same conclusion, as he quickly took Melton out in favor of Batum to try and remedy the situation.

Nonetheless, it showed poor feel for this particular game. Nurse has been a home run of a hire and should be on the shortlist of candidates for Coach of the Year. But, there's simply no logical reason to believe that that lineup is going to work.

Let's go through it - the de facto point guard is a questionable decision-maker and basically a non-shooter; the designated shooting guard struggles with dribbling; the small forward is a questionable shooter and decision-maker; the acting power forward is a questionable everything on offense; all those pieces surround the reigning league MVP.

Does that formula seem like it's poised to conjure a run against one of the league's better defenses?

I guess there's a time and place for a handful of respectively flawed players to appear around Embiid, but a game in which you were already struggling is not the right context. Just a really poor feel for that particular moment.

- A separate-but-related point: Embiid should not be posting up on the same side of the floor as Beverley. He's almost certainly at risk of being double-teamed anyway because Beverley is functionally treated as a non-shooter. But, you might as well just throw the ball out of bounds and get back on defense if you're going to position Beverley on Embiid's side.

But, there were moments in which Beverley - one of the acting main ball-handlers in the lineup - tried to make a post entry pass to Embiid. Except, it's not possible because defenses are going to front the post with Beverley's man and back it with Embiid's man.

Even if Beverley isn't the one making the entry pass, having him one pass away is also asking for trouble because the second defender in the double-team is going to have a very close starting point.

Moral of the story - if you're going to play Embiid and Beverley together, put the non-shooter on the side opposite wherever the big fella is.

- It would be wrong to chalk up the hole the Sixers found themselves in all to an Embiid-plus-reserves lineup decision, though. The effort was quite bad across the board, with Embiid's defensive intensity dominating the headlines. I can appreciate how difficult his job is when you give up as much dribble penetration as the perimeter did in the first half. But, he was not sharp in his rotations or timely with his contests at the rim.

The Sixers were looking for their best player to set the tone, and Embiid was only interested in dominating the offensive end as much as he could. Cleveland is a little bit of an awkward offensive formula that poses challenges for the Sixers. Garland is too quick and agile for most of Philadelphia's defensive weapons on the perimeter. Most of the Sixers' personnel are too small to challenge Mobley and Barrett at the rim. The Cavaliers who would draw the Sixers' best perimeter defenders are not all that versatile. So, the ways Cleveland can inflict damage are areas of weakness for Philadelphia.

All of that is to say, I can understand if the Sixers simply didn't have the tools to thwart Garland or bigs plunging on the back side. But, you then have to step it up a notch on offense to keep pace. And if Maxey is going to enjoy the fruits of his rise to stardom, he also is going to take responsibility when it's clear that a tone needs to be set.

He wasn't nearly aggressive enough in the first two quarters. Him hunting his own shot when his teammates couldn't muster up the juice on either end could've saved the Sixers from falling into the hole they did.

The whole team failed in the effort department before halftime. But, if the big names get to enjoy most of the good attention, they also have to take some of the blows when things aren't going well.

- On the topic of Maxey, the question of whether he's a legitimate star is no longer about skill. He has the abilities. It's now about the mentality, and the major point of struggle right now is his battle with aggressive play. He follows some absolute killer games with totally absent halves when his team is desperate for its leaders to step up.

His passive play is particularly obvious when he shares the floor with Embiid. If you pay close attention, you'll see Embiid ushering Maxey to come get the ball from him so they can work the two-man game. The big guy wants to be a partner to Maxey. But, Maxey is simultaneously deferential to the stature of his teammate. So, you have these bouts in which the offense runs dry because Maxey is trying to feed Embiid but Embiid is trying to get him more involved.

Bottom line - Embiid will get his. Maxey has to be more assertive from the jump.

Even when he's on the floor without Embiid, there are possessions in which he defers to less-capable teammates. He needs to operate with the mindset that any possession that ends with him getting a shot is a good possession for his team.

Until he shakes that and decides to be aggressive all the time, there should be questions about how credible of a running mate he is for Embiid.

- This game came down to three things that persisted all night long. One was that Philadelphia couldn't figure out how to protect the back side when Embiid lifted away from the rim to confront Garland in the pick-and-roll. Allen and Mobley are not particularly gifted offensive players. But, they are vertical spacers. And they feasted on Philadelphia's poor low-man rotations for four quarters and an overtime period.

- Garland is the mechanism that makes those dives on the back side possible. He put a hurting on the Sixers all night long. It didn't matter whether he was on the ball or off it, cutting or navigating a screen. He's too shifty and quick for what the Sixers have to offer on the perimeter. If he didn't claim the basket himself, he set up Allen and Mobley for easy dunks. He burned Philadelphia every which way, creating scores when the Sixers desperately needed stops.

- The other Cavaliers didn't put all that much of a hurting on the Sixers until Cleveland's first shot went up. But, when the ball came down, they broke Philadelphia's back. The Sixers are a good defensive rebounding team, but the Cavaliers came away with a bunch of timely offensive rebounds in this game. Their shooters feasted on the additional chances.

- The Sixers almost certainly win this game in regulation if they make their layups in the fourth quarter. But, alas. As much as Philadelphia prides itself on getting to the rim, they are not that good at closing the deal.

- Nurse claimed he was fine with the look they got, but the Sixers had an awful lot of time to come up with something better than an Embiid isolation for a jumper at the right block. Heading to Minnesota on the second leg of a back-to-back, the last thing the Sixers needed was an overtime loss on Tuesday. That's exactly what they got.

The Sixers will visit the Minnesota Timberwolves (10-3) on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig/Townsquare Media

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