By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Cleveland 112, Philadelphia 108 – Box Score
After attending the first three quarters of the Ohio State-Michigan game Saturday before flying to Philadelphia for a 1:00 PM Sunday matinee, it was no surprise that Cleveland started the game looking sluggish. The Cavaliers began the contest 0-14 from the field, allowing the Sixers to jump out to a 10-2 lead.
However, the good thing about having three of the best players in the league is that you can fail to show up for the first half of the opening quarter and still turn it on when you need to pull out a win. Though the Sixers fought hard to maintain the lead until just outside of 9 minutes remaining in the game, the defending champs quickly stretched their newfound advantage to as many as 11, withstanding a late Philadelphia flurry to pull out the victory.
As usual, Cleveland’s Big Three proved to be the difference. Kyrie Irving went off for a game-high 39 points, including 19 in the 4th quarter alone, and hitting 5 of 11 threes on the afternoon. LeBron James was his dominant all-around self, recording his 3rd triple-double of the season with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. The Sixers did a poor job fighting through screens in the pick-and-roll and often got stuck with someone like Nik Stauskas or TJ McConnell trying to guard James. Predictably, those sequences did not end well. James also made Robert Covington see the ghost of The Block from last year’s Finals, as RoCo botched a breakaway lay-up with James lurking behind him. Kevin Love was no slouch either, playing through a cut he suffered above his right eye to score 25 points on just 13 field goal attempts, to go along with 11 rebounds.
Facing a Cleveland team that often went with a 5-out line-up with Love playing center, it was good to see both Sixers centers have a nice game. Joel Embiid finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in 25 minutes. He hit 3 of 4 threes and is now shooting 50% from behind the arc on the season. Embiid also did a nice job recognizing double teams and making the appropriate reads. In fact, it was the first time in his career that he finished with more assists (4) than turnovers (3).
Really though, he has to be considered a basketball unicorn, when a guy a couple inches above 7 feet is able to pump fake at the three-point line and drive to the hoop like this:
Although he may want to avoid taunting in the future, as veteran Richard Jefferson had some heated words for Embiid following this exchange:
When Embiid wasn’t out there, things didn’t completely fall apart, as Jahlil Okafor had one of his better games this season. The defense was still a trainwreck, but Jahlil actually did a nice job on the boards, finishing with a season-high 9 rebounds. It’s sad that his previous season high was 6, but we’ll take any sort of progress.
Offensively, Okafor was excellent, making quick, decisive moves to score 14 points on 7-11 shooting. I only recall one or two occasions where a look to Jahlil resulted in a slow-developing post-up too far from the basket and a low-percentage shot. This game was the version of Okafor I can live with moving forward.
The Sixers are right back in action tonight against the Raptors in Toronto. No Embiid, who did not travel with the team, so Philadelphia will need another strong effort from Okafor and the rest of the roster to pick up their games. I’m not overwhelmingly optimistic about their prospects.