The Sixers breathed a deep sigh of relief at the final buzzer and ended the NBA’s longest winning streak Monday night in Cleveland.
The Cavs were unable to complete their late comeback, falling to a 123-121 loss and falling to 35-17.
Donovan Mitchell drove into the paint and was blocked by Paul Reed on the final play of the game. Mitchell then scooped up the loose ball and sent it to Darius Garland, but his attempt at a corner three-pointer fell short.
The Sixers improved to 32-21 and were great as a team to end Cleveland’s nine-game streak. They had six players score in double figures and Buddy Hield (24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, eight assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, nine assists) stood out. Kelly Oubre Jr. also scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Mitchell’s 36 points led Cleveland. Garland and Jarrett Allen each had 21.
The Sixers, who are expected to sign Kyle Lowry once he clears waivers, continue to have a long injury list.
They were missing Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Tobias Harris (left hip impingement), Nicolas Batum (left hamstring strain), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response) and Robert Covington (bruise to left knee bone).
The Sixers will return to Philadelphia and face the Heat on Wednesday night in their final game before the All-Star break. Here are some observations from their improbable victory over the Cavs:
Martin’s first start with the Sixers
Sixers head coach Nick Nurse was very pleased with KJ Martin’s performance Saturday night in the Sixers’ win over the Wizards.
“He played great defense,” Nurse said. “He was changing direction, stopping a lot of those drives. … He had (23) minutes and he probably deserved more than 30, to be honest, with the way he defended. I thought he had a lot, a lot of impact.
Nurse decided Monday to give Martin his first start this season in place of Harris. Martin played a solid 26 minutes in Cleveland, recording 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds while alternating between various defensive assignments.
Reed had another strong start offensively, including an and-one layup after throwing Hield and driving hard. Reed immediately developed pick-and-roll chemistry with Hield during the 31-year-old’s first three games as a Sixer.
Overall, Reed has scored 37 points on 17-of-28 shooting, 28 rebounds and one turnover in his last three outings. He largely played within himself and finished well around the rim with both hands.
Mo Bamba returned after sitting out Saturday with right knee soreness and had seven points and eight rebounds behind Reed.
Nurse expanded the Sixers’ rotation to nine players, although Terquavion Smith received just three minutes in the second quarter. Fellow Ricky Council IV spent time defending Mitchell and scored eight points and five rebounds.
Lots to like about the Sixers offense
The Sixers offense was outstanding in the first half against the NBA’s No. 2 defense.
Oubre continued his 28-point night in Washington by hitting his first three shots. Hield sank straight three-pointers and scored 10 points in the first quarter.
Cameron Payne scored five quick points and set up an alley-oop slam from Bamba. For a player who adapts to his new teammates on the fly, Payne did a solid job playing with both pace and composure. He recognized attacking opportunities, facilitated a fluid attack and made few rash decisions.
Hield is also extremely comfortable in a fast, multi-dimensional and controlled style. Both picks at the trade deadline looked sharp again alongside Maxey, who dished out eight assists in the first half.
After committing four turnovers in the first four minutes, the Sixers had no freebies the rest of the first half. They took a nine-point advantage late in the second quarter thanks to a Martin layup.
Sixers rush forward, escape victorious
Cleveland erased the Sixers’ lead early in the third quarter with an 11-0 spurt.
The Cavs’ run included second-chance threes from Garland and Max Strus. The Sixers were otherwise solid on the glass as a shorthanded team playing its third game in four nights and facing a significantly bigger opponent.
However, the odds were obviously not in the Sixers’ favor. A slam by Allen with 1.8 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Cavs a one-point advantage. Oubre helped the Sixers keep the game close early in the fourth and hit a long two to knot the game at 102-all.
Hield then made two consecutive impressive plays from pile pick-and-rolls, assisting a Bamba dunk and sinking in a tough drive. After a Cleveland timeout, Hield assessed Strus late in the shot clock and drained a three. He did it again the next time, making the big shot the Sixers needed.
An “I hate it if he misses” Oubre three early in the shot clock extended the Sixers’ lead to 10 points with 1:25 to play. But the game was not yet played.
The Sixers struggled to close out Cleveland. Hield turned the ball over on an errant out-of-bounds pass, then was booked for his sixth foul on a Mitchell and-one layup. Following a Sixers shot clock violation, Mitchell made a third chance to cut the Cavs deficit to 120-119.
Finally, thanks to two Council free throws, the Sixers squeaked by Cleveland. Considering how well they played before the final minute, they absolutely deserved the victory.