On Tuesday night in South Philly, the Sixers had their fourth and final In-Season Tournament game, needing a win to keep hopes alive of advancing to the knockout stage. The Indiana Pacers were above them in their bracket after a head-to-head win last week. Unfortunately, the Sixers could not push through despite a heroic second-half effort by Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid.
Early on against the Cavaliers, the Sixers looked extremely sluggish. They were making mental mistakes by turning the ball over and not fighting through screens on defense which all led to a 13-point halftime deficit. This bad play was against a subpar team that was missing the best player on their team, Donovan Mitchell. Nick Nurse must’ve given it to his team at halftime because when they came back on the floor they were ready to show up, but was it too late?
Joel Embiid was in foul trouble for the Sixers all night.
Embiid took 16 foul shots last night and a lot of the calls were going his way, but the refs were calling it against him just as much. The issue for the Sixers though was Nick Nurse made an impulsive and extremely costly mistake on one of Embiid’s foul calls that likely had a significant outcome on the game.
One of the earlier fouls against the Sixers’ big man was a somewhat ticky-tack moving screen call where Tyrese was being followed by Max Strus. Looking at the replay, Embiid definitely moved his right arm a little to nudge Strus and it was more likely than not a foul. The arena went crazy and Nurse, under pressure from Embiid and his team, decided to challenge the call.
The unsuccessful challenge left Nurse without one when he would need it most.
In the second part of the fourth quarter and into overtime, Embiid was not his usual aggressive self on defense. He was shying away from contesting shots at the rim and was not as physical which allowed Cleveland to get what they wanted in the paint.
Then, with 10 seconds left in overtime, Darius Garland tried to split De’Anthony Melton and Embiid and Melton grabbed him on the wrist. The ref had a bad angle on the play and whistled Embiid for his sixth foul, causing him to foul out. Embiid did not even touch Garland on the replay and if Nurse had not rashly and unwisely used his challenge early in the game, he could have used it then.
Embiid would have been able to stay on the floor for the Sixers’ final possession, which whether he shot the ball or not, would have created a lot more space to get up a game-tying three. Losing our best player in such a key moment undoubtedly impacted the game and potentially altered the outcome. In the future, Nurse needs to be more prudent in using his challenges to make sure he has them when he needs them most.