Playing the Philadelphia 76ers is tough. Playing the Sixers, and MVP candidate Joel Embiid, without your All-Star center to counter is even tougher. But that is exactly what the Cleveland Cavaliers had to do and, for a brief moment in the third quarter, it looked like the home team was going to pull it out.
However, Cleveland was unable to close it out, falling to Philly 118-114 after being outscored by nine points in the fourth quarter - after smashing the Sixers in the third quarter 31-13. The Cavs, now 39-30, are avoiding the play-in game by a precarious margin with some difficult matchups yet to come. Philadelphia, who has looked pedestrian of late remains in third place in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs current have the edge over Toronto Raptors for seventh in the conference via a tiebreaker, but the momentum is certainly trending in the wrong direction for the wine and gold.
Granted, the Cavs are banged up and/or in the process of reintegrating players back into the rotation. Caris LeVert, who finished with 15 points and seven assists on 6-15 shooting, just finished his second game back from a foot sprain that kept him out a month. J.B. Bickerstaff, in an effort to get the energetic Dylan Windler (zero points on one shot attempt) on the floor, played him over Cedi Osman. Lamar Stevens has been thrust into the starting lineup in place of Dean Wade, who is essentially replacing Evan Mobley (13 points, nine rebounds) — who slid over to replace Jarrett Allen. Stevens finished with eight points on 4-6 shooting in 18 minutes.
For the fourth-straight game, Darius Garland has struggled shooting the basketball. He went 5/15 against the Sixers but supplemented that with going 11-12 from the free throw line. Opposing defenses, clearly sensing the Cavaliers' lack of scoring punch, are forcing the ball out of Garland’s hands. In his last four games, Garland is shooting 33.8% (26-77). Getting LeVert back helps, but it will take time to get the recently acquired wingman his confidence and flow back.
Despite the injuries and shooting woes, the Cavaliers rattled off a big third quarter, outscoring the Sixers by 18. But Philadelphia collected themselves and hammered out a win. Embiid finished with 35 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists, another MVP-caliber performance. Tyrese Maxey, who 33 points the last time these two teams met, added 25. James Harden had 21 points and was consistently harassed by Isaac Okoro, who also had another good offensive game for the Cavs.
Last season, moral victories were good enough. Ty Lue’s famous “wins and lessons” monologue in 2018 rang true for a while. But the Cavaliers are fighting for playoff positioning and every game counts. Not having Allen played a big part in tonight’s outcome, and it likely will the rest of the season. The Cavs will have to push through it as the schedule gets tougher, and things get dicier.
Up Next: The Cavs will play host to another MVP center in Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. That game will tipoff at 7:30 p.m on Friday.