Game Review | Road Trip Closes with Bounce-Back Win Over Cavs

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Recap:

In two previous meetings this season, the King had the upper hand.

The third time around, it was the Prince and his teammates who prevailed.

Fueled, in part, by Ben Simmons’ big second half, the 76ers summoned up a determined, defiant, bounce-back performance Thursday, earning a key 108-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.

The win marked the Sixers’ first over the Cavs since March 29th, 2013, and halted an 11-game losing streak to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

The triumph also moved the sixth-seed Sixers to within 2.5 games of Cleveland for third place in the East standings. The outcome represented an encouraging punctuation to a trek that saw the Sixers drop games to fellow post-season hopefuls Washington and Miami.

Taking his game to another level after intermission, Simmons nearly pulled off his seventh triple-double of the season, with 18 points (8-14 fg, 2-2 ft), 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. He provided important plays in crunch time, from a driving dunk that increased the Sixers’ lead to six points with four and a half minutes to go, to an assist on a Dario Saric triple that sparked a decisive 8-0 spurt after the Cavaliers had clawed within one, 95-94, with two minutes, 25 seconds left.

Simmons had plenty of help in closing out the Cavs. Joel Embiid, who registered his 32nd double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, converted an impressive baseline fadeaway on the heels of the Saric three.

Then, following another Sixers’ stop, it was JJ Redick’s turn to nail a timely baseline jumper. The clutch deposit made it 102-94 at the 55 second mark, all but ensuring Thursday’s final outcome.

“Down the stretch, JJ hit some shots,” said Brett Brown, a winner over Cleveland for the first time as a head coach. “I thought Dario’s three from Ben...was the back breaker. Then we got Joel the ball of the baseline fadeaway to sort of seal the deal. It got us over the top.”

For Cleveland, LeBron James, as he almost always does, got his numbers, manufacturing 30 points (12-24 fg, 2-6 3fg), 9 boards, and 8 helpers. Simmons, however, held his own against his mentor, on whom he picked up defensive duties in Thursday’s second half.

“It’s fun,” said Simmons, when asked about matching up with James, “because I know he’s a great, competitive player, and I’m the same way.”

The Sixers never trailed in Thursday’s physical, hard-fought bout, with a 13-point gap at the outset of the fourth quarter their largest lead.

In addition to Simmons and Embiid, four other members of the roster racked up double-figures. Redick supplied 22 points (7-11 fg, 4-7 3fg), a team-high. Saric added 16 points (5-13 fg, 2-5 3fg), and Marco Belinelli 11 (4-9 fg, 1-4 3fg).

Robert Covington collected his fourth double-double of the year, posting 10 points (4-11 fg) and 10 rebounds.

Making his first appearance back in a Sixers uniform, Ersan Ilyasova logged 18 minutes off the bench. He chipped in with 6 points (2-5 fg, 0-2 3fg, 2-2 ft), 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.

Simmons Comes Through in Second Half

Let’s use the next couple lines to dig a little bit deeper into Ben Simmons’ crucial second half contributions.

With the Sixers’ margin at one early in Thursday’s third quarter, the freshly-minted February Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month flicked on the “aggressive” switch, and rattled off six points in a row. His first score was a 12-foot hook shot, his next two points were free throws, and then came a driving lay-up.

Simmons, however, wasn’t done. He assisted on a Marco Belinelli basket, before cranking out another lay-up, and :: eyes emoji :: an 18-foot pull-up jump shot at the elbow.

All said and done, Simmons pumped out 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting in Thursday’s third period. He later relied on his defense to help open up a game-high 13-point differential.

“Playing against [James], obviously one of the best to play the game, it’s a great vibe out there,” said Simmons, who James started to take interest in after the Aussie arrived in the United States. “The whole team is into it, and it’s very competitive. That was a big win for us.”

Even with a revamped cast surrounding James, Brett Brown acknowledged Thursday’s result had some extra weight to it.

“We’re proud of the win,” said Brown. “Any time you can beat a team LeBron James plays on, you must have done something fairly decent.”

Positive Praise

In the aftermath of the Sixers’ first win over Cleveland in 12 tries, the Cavaliers were quick to praise their opponent.

“I think they came in and played well,” said LeBron James. “You give credit where credit is due. I think Philly played well.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue sounded as if he was most impressed with Ben Simmons’ defense, calling the 21-year old a “big match-up problem.”

“He can guard four or five positions,” Lue said. “He’s a match-up problem. He’s fast, and he’s got a good handle with the ball.”

Later on in the night, there was lots of love to be found for the Sixers on James’ Instagram account.

Embiid’s Key Shot

Joel Embiid’s turning, fading jump shot with 88 seconds to go sent the SIxers to a 100-94 lead, and extended the club’s game-clinching 8-0 surge.

The move was Maba-esque, and somewhat ridiculous that it could be pulled off by a man listed as 7-feet tall, 250 pounds.

“I think it was a great shot for the momentum, kind of gave us the game, I think,” said Embiid. “The whole game we were planning for (the double team), and it worked out pretty well. It was a double team, but Kobe (Bryant) is my favorite player, so from watching him, he doesn’t pass the ball. Double team or triple team, I feel like I had to shoot the ball.”

In this instance, his instincts, and touch, were right on.

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Up Next:

It’ll be a quick stop at home, but, after three, high-stakes Eastern Conference games on the road, a stop at home it still will be. The Sixers wrap up their 10th back-to-back set of the year Friday against the Charlotte Hornets. While Charlotte was six losses under .500 as of Thursday, don’t be fooled. The Hornets have been playing good basketball as of late. They had a season-best five-game winning streak halted Wednesday with a 134-106 loss to Boston.