PHILADELPHIA, PA — The Cavaliers took down the Sixers on Tuesday night as part of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament. There’s no doubt that the victory is monumental in terms of who will ultimately win the NBA Cup; although, in terms of who will win the Larry O’Brien in June, the major storyline is how Cleveland matches up with their potential state-adjacent playoff opponent.
The Cavaliers’ frontcourt gave the Sixers trouble all night and the Cavs’ roster construction could be a major matchup problem for Philadelphia. Yet, during the postgame press conferences, Joel Embiid & Co. didn’t directly come out and say that Cleveland’s style of play, which utilizes Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen as a twin towers combo, was the issue.
Embiid and Nick Nurse each pointed to the Sixers’ inability to match the Cavs’ physicality as a pain point in a game where Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris received frontcourt minutes together. Tobias Harris mentioned that Cleveland’s length and losing second-chance opportunities hurt Philadelphia. Tyrese Maxey admitted that the presence of Mobley and Allen in the paint along with the team’s lengthy forwards (such as Dean Wade) made things difficult for him during pick-and-roll action.
“I think one-on-one is pretty good. And then it’s just when you get into the pick-and-roll, they have two 6’8, 6’9 guys, it’s different looks,” Maxey said of Wade and the Cavaliers’ defense. “I missed some wide-open threes, some good looks that in a two-man game that I know we make. Especially in that second half, like great looks. And then some of them catch and shoot great looks. So, I mean, he does a good job doing defense, so I mean, I guess that’s great.”
What Do The Stats Say About Embiid’s Matchup?
- Embiid had seven touches in the paint against the Cavaliers, taking only three shots and making just one. The 7.0-to-1 touches-to-buckets in the paint ratio falls way short of his 2.52-to-1 season mark entering the contest (last year, his MVP season, that ratio was 2.67-1).
- Also worth noting: Embiid made 67.0% of his shots in the paint last season and was converting 61.2% of his shots from the paint leading up to the Cavaliers game (33.0% in an extremely small sample size against Cleveland this season).
Cleveland’s length on defense and size in the interior are certainly strengths for J.B. Bickerstaff’s club. Why the Mobley-Allen paint combo wasn’t a bigger talking point postgame could simply be gamesmanship by Nurse and Embiid (and with Minnesota’s twin towers on deck for Philadelphia, that’s fair); it could also be their confidence to tackle the Cavs’ matchup when given the opportunity to do again. Still, it’s clear that Cleveland’s style of play is going to be problematic for the Sixers in a potential playoff matchup, perhaps similar to how Boston’s Al Horford–Robert Williams duo gave the team trouble in the past.
The short-handed Cavaliers needed Tristan Thompson to step up in the matchup and the 32-year-old did so.
“I mean there’s just a trust there, you know Tristan studies the game, he understands his opponent, you know, he’s not afraid of the moment,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff told the media, including FortyEightMinutes, after the contest.
“As long as I’ve been around Tristan, Tristan always finds a way to impact winning, so you got a guy like that, you believe in him, and you give him a chance.”
Thompson’s two missed free throws in the first half scored Philadelphia fans free Chick-fil-A and while that may be the most exciting thing from the veteran’s night, it was really his ability to give the Cavaliers solid minutes that should be noted (Thompson was +4 while making his only field goal attempt and adding a block and steal during 15 minutes of foulness court-time).
Cavaliers Trade Talk
We’re months from the trade deadline, but watching this Cavaliers’ team it’s hard not to wonder what Cleveland’s roster strategy will be leading up to it.
Heading into the season, there were rumblings that Donovan Mitchell could be on his way out of town, though no major news organization reported anything tangible about the former Louisville star. I have no inside information but with the club finding some success early and appearing to be a real Eastern Conference contender, it’s easy to justify the decision to keep Mitchell on board through the remainder of the season—even if he doesn’t intend to stick around long-term (Mitchell can hit free agency in the summer of 2025).
Assuming the Mitchell-Darius Garland backcourt remains (which, again isn’t a given), a reliable backup point guard might be Cleveland’s biggest need. Craig Porter Jr. has been a nice story and Ricky Rubio could certainly return to the lineup at some point, though I imagine that the team will survey the market and two names come to mind:
- Tyus Jones: There are few players on the Wizards who won’t be available leading up to the trade deadline and Jones might be the best of them. He has playoff experience from his time backing up Ja Morant with the Grizzlies and he’d be a seamless fit in Cleveland.
- Alex Caruso: The former Lakers has been linked to the Cavs for several seasons and he’d be a fit. I do believe Jones is a more likely get for Cleveland than Caruso (again, no inside information on this one—I’m just paying attention closely).
Cavaliers Injury Update
Donovan Mitchell will miss his fourth-straight game as the Cavaliers take on the Heat on Wednesday night.