When the Philadelphia 76ers played the Cavaliers earlier this season, they were embarrassed in Cleveland. With the third seed in the NBA Eastern Conference at stake in tonight’s matchup, the Sixers sought to extend their win streak to four games and head into the All-Star break on a positive note.
Right from the start, the Sixers were locked in. Their offense was clicking, and their defense disrupted any flow that Cleveland attempted to get going. As expected, Joel Embiid went to work early and often. In the first quarter, Embiid reached a huge milestone, scoring his 10,000th point. He reached this mark faster than anybody else in franchise history, even faster than Allen Iverson.
Harden aggressively looked for his shots in the first period, but he also got teammates involved. One of those teammates was Tobias Harris. The Sixers lacked scoring from Harris the past few weeks, where he averaged only 11.7 points in ten games. Because of great passing from Harden, Harris got excellent looks and knocked down his 3-point shots while scoring on fast breaks as well.
Meanwhile, the only bright spot in the first half for Cleveland was their backcourt. Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell carried the offensive load. The front court of Cleveland was nonexistent, not really doing much on either end of the floor. Evan Mobley failed to make a field goal, while Jarrett Allen only made two buckets in the first two quarters.
The first reserves off the bench for Philly were Tyrese Maxey and Jalen McDaniels. Both brought high energy and carried the load while starters rested. Another key bench player was Paul Reed, who recorded several blocks and had a nice putback dunk. The second unit contributed nicely until Harden and Embiid returned to the court.
Cleveland’s offense was ineffective, and they played uninspired basketball in the first half. They found themselves down big at halftime, but they would come out the second half like a new team.
Out of the locker room, Darius Garland set the tone for Cleveland, scoring at will and getting teammates involved. Donovan Mitchell continued to struggle, on one play getting completely shut down by P.J. Tucker. Cleveland bigs made a comeback though, with Allen getting dunks and Mobley getting his own shots to fall, too.
The Cavs still didn’t have an answer for Joel Embiid, who bullied his opponents in the post. He scored on jumpers and close to the rim whenever he wanted. P.J. Tucker scored on several plays thanks to James Harden, but Cleveland kept chipping away at the Sixers’ lead.
As the Sixers kept turning the ball over, the Cavs capitalized. They went on a 13-0 run as Donovan Mitchell heated up and Cleveland’s interior players got easy baskets in transition. With the help from McDaniels and Maxey, the Sixers were able to maintain a 17-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers still couldn’t find an answer for Mitchell, even though Reed and Maxey stepped up with some key buckets, keeping the lead in double digits. Shake Milton contributed with a timely three-pointer early in the fourth quarter while Embiid sat the bench.
Because of careless fouls, Cleveland went to the foul line often as the Sixers were in the penalty. The lead was cut to eight points with four minutes left. Out of a timeout, Philly went to a zone defense only to be broken by Mobley on a 3-point play.
Tough shots fell for both teams late; Embiid with a baseline jumper, a Maxey floater, and Mitchell with a long 3-pointer he banked in. Cleveland dwindled the lead to four points and tested Philly’s defense under a minute to play, but time became a factor for Cleveland.
The Sixers took care of late possessions, causing the Cavs to foul to stop the clock. Playing keep-away, Philly ate seconds off the clock and knocked down their free throws to keep the game out of reach until the buzzer sounded.