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Two for one: Cavs come up just short in 98-97 loss to 76ers

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This wasn’t bad at all.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavs lost to the 76ers Tuesday night by a final score of 98-97 in a game where the team led by as many as five in the final three minutes. At the end, Kevin Love had an open three on Cleveland’s last shot, but it was too strong and that was that. Sometimes it really is a make or miss league. Also not helping: the Cavs’ offense not scoring for the final three minutes-plus.

That said, this was not all bad. This was, frankly, a largely encouraging performance from the Cavs against a legit NBA Finals contender. Let’s get into it.

POSITIVE: Tristan Thompson crushed it again

Philadelphia is a tough matchup for Thompson. Joel Embiid has a size advantage and there’s only so much he can really do to slow Embiid down. And with Embiid guarding him, there’s reason to think he’ll struggle a bit on offense, particularly when crashing the offensive glass.

But Thompson was again excellent on Tuesday. Embiid got his 27 points, but Thompson made him earn it for the most part. On offense, Thompson co-led the team with 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds (four offensive) and shot 7-13 from the field. He also made two three-pointers and again showed why he’s still a good, dependable player for the Cavs. Through 10 games, he’s been this team’s MVP.

NEGATIVE: The last three minutes

The Cavs’ last play of the game was actually a good design. After an inbounds pass, Jordan Clarkson (who was also good and had 20 points) ran a little pick-and-pop with Kevin Love. Love then pump faked, got his three and missed. It was a good set and coach John Beilein has to be at least happy with the process.

Before that, though, things got really rough for the Cavs’ offense. The team didn’t score for the final three minutes at a time when a few key baskets might have put the 76ers away. Miscues included Love missing from four-feet out, a shot clock violation, a Collin Sexton turnover and an unnecessary Thompson three-pointer.

The whole time the game was on the line, the Cavs played frenzied. Considering the youth on the team, that makes sense. Time will tell how many more lessons they need in navigating some choppy waters.

POSITIVE: Darius Garland makes some plays even when he struggles

This was not a banner game for Garland. Stylistically, the 76ers’ size was hard for him to deal with and he finished with 6 points on 3-10 shooting in 28 minutes. He did also have 2 assists — against zero turnovers — and three steals.

Garland also did this, a showcase of what makes him really interesting and worth the No. 5 overall pick:

Everything about this is super impressive. He’s going against Matisse Thybulle, perhaps the best defensive rookie in the NBA, and almost glides by with his handle. And when he knows Embiid is coming to contest his shot, he goes soft with the finish off the glass. That’s a player who has a clear feel for the game, even on a night where he struggles. That’s a good sign for Garland and the Cavs.