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3 observations after Sixers escape with unlikely win over Cavs, snap NBA's longest streak

The Sixers breathed a deep sigh of relief at the final buzzer and snapped the NBA’s longest winning streak Monday night in Cleveland.

The Cavs couldn’t complete a late comeback push, falling to a 123-121 loss and dropping to 35-17.

Donovan Mitchell drove into the paint and got blocked by Paul Reed on the game’s final play. Mitchell then recovered the loose ball and kicked it out to Darius Garland, but his corner three-point attempt was short.

The Sixers improved to 32-21 and were tremendous as a team in ending Cleveland’s nine-game streak. They had six players score in double figures and Buddy Hield (24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, eight assists) and Tyrese Maxey (22 points, nine assists) were standouts. Kelly Oubre Jr. also scored 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

Mitchell’s 36 points led Cleveland. Garland and Jarrett Allen each tallied 21.

The Sixers, who are expected to sign Kyle Lowry once he clears waivers, continued 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 (left knee bone bruise).

The Sixers will return to Philadelphia and play the Heat on Wednesday night in their final game before the All-Star break. Here are observations on their improbable victory over the Cavs:

Martin’s first Sixers start 

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse had been quite pleased with KJ Martin’s performance Saturday night in the Sixers’ win over the Wizards.

“He was playing excellent on defense,” Nurse said. “He was switching out, stopping a lot of those drives. … He got (23) minutes and he probably deserved closer to 30, to be honest, with the way he was defending. I thought he was very, very impactful.”

Nurse decided on Monday to give Martin his first start this season in Harris’ place. Martin played 26 good minutes in Cleveland, recording 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds while toggling between a variety of defensive assignments.

Reed had another nice start offensively, including an and-one layup after he screened for Hield and rolled hard. Reed’s immediately developed pick-and-roll chemistry with Hield over the 31-year-old’s first three games as a Sixer.

Overall, Reed has posted 37 points on 17-for-28 shooting, 28 rebounds, and one turnover across his last three outings. He’s largely played within himself and finished well around the rim with both hands.

Mo Bamba returned after sitting Saturday because of right knee soreness and had seven points and eight boards behind Reed.

Nurse expanded the Sixers’ rotation to nine players, although Terquavion Smith only received three second-quarter minutes. Fellow rookie Ricky Council IV spent time defending Mitchell and chipped in eight points and five rebounds.

A ton to like about the Sixers’ offense

The Sixers’ offense was stellar in the first half against the NBA’s No. 2-rated defense.

Oubre followed up his 28-point night in D.C. by hitting his first three shots. Hield sunk back-to-back threes and notched 10 first-quarter points.

Cameron Payne scored five quick points and set up a Bamba alley-oop slam. For a player adapting to his new teammates on the fly, Payne has done strong work playing with both pace and poise. He’s recognized windows to attack, facilitated smooth offense, and made few rash decisions.

Hield’s also been exceedingly comfortable playing a fast, multi-dimensional, controlled style. Both trade deadline pickups again looked sharp alongside Maxey, who dished out eight first-half assists.

After committing four turnovers in the opening four minutes, the Sixers had zero giveaways over the remainder of the first half. They took a nine-point advantage late in the second quarter on a Martin put-back layup.

Sixers surge ahead, escape victorious

Cleveland wiped out 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 solid on the glass otherwise 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. An Allen slam with 1.8 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Cavs a one-point edge. Oubre helped the Sixers keep the game tight early in the fourth and drilled a long two to knot the contest at 102-all.

Hield then made two straight impressive plays out of stack pick-and-rolls, assisting a Bamba dunk and banking in a tough leaner. After a Cleveland timeout, Hield sized up Strus late in the shot clock and drained a three. He did it again the next time down, delivering the big-time shotmaking the Sixers required.

A “Hate it if he misses” Oubre three early in the shot clock extended the Sixers’ lead to 10 points with 1:25 left. The game was not yet in the bag, though.

The Sixers struggled to close out Cleveland. Hield turned the ball over on an errant out-of-bounds pass and then got called for his sixth foul on a Mitchell and-one layup. Following a Sixers shot-clock violation, Mitchell nailed a third-chance three to cut the Cavs’ deficit to 120-119.

Ultimately, with the help of two clutch Council free throws, the Sixers squeaked by Cleveland. Given how well they’d played before the final minute, they absolutely earned the victory.

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