Sixers edge out Cavaliers 118-109 in fourth-quarter nailbiter

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The Philadelphia 76ers extended their win streak to six against the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road on Wednesday night, with a final score of 118-109 after a neck-and-neck game. This marks the third and final matchup between the two teams, as the Sixers now hold the tiebreaker over the Cavs.

Philadelphia took an early lead in the first quarter, continuing their strong defensive performances that have been central in their last several games. With Cavs center Jarrett Allen missing his third game with an eye contusion, Joel Embiid was much more free to protect the rim – which he did a stellar job at, including with this poster-esque block on Issac Okoro. For his part, Tobias Harris did a nice job limiting Cavs’ star Donovan Mitchell to just eight points in the first half, while Tyrese Maxey used his speed to his advantage to keep up with Darius Garland on both ends of the court.

But the team’s offensive prowess in the first half didn’t quite match up. They committed an uncharacteristic ten turnovers in the first half and, as a team, shot just 50% from the field and 40% from deep. Though Embiid and Harden combined for 35 points in the first half, Maxey, Harris, and role player Georges Niang all struggled in transition. Harris, in particular, missed multiple layups and three-pointers in both halves, and Cleveland responded. With a phenomenal 14-point first half from Caris LeVert – capped off by an incredible three-point with under a second left – and assistance from Cedi Osman off the bench, the Cavs gained the lead, and the first half ended with Cleveland up 60-55.

Despite a lackluster start to the third quarter, though, the Sixers picked up steam with a solid 18-3 run, led by Embiid, Harden, and Maxey. They regained the lead, but Cleveland once again responded with a nine-point quarter from Darius Garland and strong defense from Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert. Mobley, in particular, provided strong coverage on Embiid (particularly in Allen’s absence), shifting from allowing Embiid to draw fouls to playing more off-ball defense. But the Sixers stayed right on their heels, with Niang ending the third quarter with a wide-open three-pointer to take the lead 84-83.

With an ultra-close game on the line, both teams entered the fourth quarter with a sense of urgency. LeVert continued his outstanding shooting streak, putting up ten in the fourth for a game total of 24 while going 5-11 from three for the game. For the Sixers, Harden leveraged his signature combo of scoring and passing, while Shake Milton put up two three-pointers and gave the Sixers a five-point lead with six and a half minutes remaining. And they didn’t give it up again.

Late in the game, though, things got interesting. A three-point stepback for Joel Embiid – who contributed four blocks and a whopping 18 rebounds in addition to his 36 points – extended the team’s lead to seven points.

But shortly thereafter, Embiid was called for a push-off on Evan Mobley, which would have had him foul out. Yet a challenge from head coach Doc Rivers was successful, allowing Embiid to stay in. Though his defense became necessarily limited, the team held on, and it was clear the Cavs were morally crushed. A combination of made free throws and missed Cavs buckets allowed the Sixers to edge out, winning by nine points with double-doubles from both Harden and Embiid.

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Sixers, but it was a necessary one regardless. The team plays next in Charlotte on Friday at 7:00pm.