Game Preview | Late-Game Execution Takes Encouraging Step

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

A game after seeing a 13-point lead disappear, the 76ers made sure a 13-point lead held up.

While helping turn the Sixers into a playoff contender, Brett Brown has made it a priority to develop the team through a defense-first lens.

Being able to come up with key buckets in crunch time, however, is another important ingredient for success, especially at an increasingly intense stage of the year when the sport becomes more of a half-court game.

In Thursday’s 108-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, the Sixers not only managed to generate pivotal shots down the stretch, but make them, doing so in a contest thick with playoff implications. For a club looking to make noise in the post-season, this development should serve as a positive step.

As for how the Sixers got their late-game baskets, and who was involved, the methods and options were multiple.

After Kyle Korver buried a 3-pointer with two and a half minutes to go that cut the Sixers’ lead to one, 95-94, it was game on. But with the pressure ratcheted up, the Sixers answered.

JJ Redick’s weakside flare, combined with Ben Simmons driving into the paint, was enough to leave Cleveland confused, and Dario Saric open in the corner. The Croatian first measured up from three, then measured up to the moment. Big shot.

With the Sixers’ defense continuing to clamp down, the offense was given more chances to extend the lead. The team’s next trip down, it was Joel Embiid who manufactured a dynamic, clutch deposit.

Disregarding a Cavaliers’ double-team, the All-Star center elected to keep the ball in his own hands, and call upon his trusted fadeaway. More often than not, the Sixers’ offense is more ball movement than isolation, but in this particular instance, Embiid’s confidence - and touch - paid dividends. Big shot.

Then, with under a minute to go, it was redemption time for one of the best shooters of his generation.

Tuesday in Miami, JJ Redick thought a potential game-winning 3-point attempt should have been his. Instead, the shot fell short off the front of the rim.

Fast forward to Thursday’s clash with Cleveland, and Redick didn’t miss. With Embiid using elbow action to set up a drive to the block, Redick released from a pick he set on LeBron James, and drifted to the wing.

Embiid found Redick with an outlet pass, and the veteran guard dribbled to the corner, where he put an up-fake on Larry Nance, who was closing out in desperation. The move bought Redick just enough time - and room - to swish home a back-breaking, bouncy, baseline dagger that widened the gap to eight points with 55.3 seconds left. Big shot.

Asked for lasting impressions from Thursday’s win, the Sixers’ first over Cleveland in 12 tries, the head coach sounded most pleased with his young team’s late-game execution. 

“I was especially happy for JJ tonight,” Brown said. “After that miss he had in Miami, the way he came back and responded was excellent.”

Embiid, who saved some of his best for last against the Cavs, said it was a good feeling to finish off a quality foe, on the road, no less, to cap a significant road trip with a victory. 

“Earlier in the year, we were kind of blowing leads and losing games at the end, so we have gotten better since,” said the big man. “We have been able to close out games, so it feels good to come out on the road, and win these type of games.”

Feeding off the defense, the Sixers’ offense proved up to the task.

Opponent Outlook:

The Sixers will be home, but only for a moment, as they’ll set out for another four-game road trip following Friday’s pairing with the Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network). Led by Kemba Walker, Charlotte has enjoyed a modest change in fortunes as of late, recently stringing together a season-high five-game winning streak. Walker, last month named an All-Star replacement, ranks third in the NBA with 179 3-pointers, and is averaging 23.1 points per game. Friday will mark the first of three meetings between the Sixers and Hornets between now and the end of the season.

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports Philadelphia app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network