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Takeaways from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers

The Cavs played the

Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

On Wednesday night in Cleveland, the Cavaliers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 118-109. Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 36 points and 18 rebounds. Caris LeVert lead the Cavs with 24 points, while Darius Garland added 21 points.

Defensive process didn’t lead to good results

When the Cavs lost to the 76ers before the All-Star break, Cleveland was blown out because they didn’t match the physicality of Philadelphia. They didn’t rotate on defense. They didn’t mark shooters. They got straight up beat.

That was not the case on Wednesday. That’s irrespective of the end result and the numbers.

With Embiid, Evan Mobley led a connected, on-point defense against Embiid to double him in the post and have some marking him at all times. Embiid went off because he’s just that good, but he had to work for his points. Mobley was the forefront of that, stepping up to defend Embiid with timing, length and just enough strength despite a size disadvantage.

On the back end, nine out of every 10 rotations back to shooters was on time. The mistakes were costly (see Cedi Osman losing Georges Niang at the end of the third for a three that put the 76ers ahead by one), but those are the margins in a tight game against a good team. Five offensive rebounds for the 76ers (leading to six second-chance points) were also a backbreaker.

By and large, Cleveland’s defense did what it needed. Philadelphia was just better and executed a high level.

Role players stepping up

Both Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro played exactly how they needed to in this matchup. That bodes well for them going forward when the game gets bigger.

LeVert gave Cleveland high-end two-way play, a mix of his jitterbug scoring and the three-and-d role the Cavs have asked him to fill this year. The shot making especially popped on an off night for Mitchell. In a stretch to open the third, with LeVert and Mitchell on the floor together, it was LeVert’s show. He went deep into his bag of tricks for big bucket after big bucket.

LeVert was a great passer too — going iso and dribbling away before throwing a last second pass to a big in the dunker spot or to a shooter. He finished with a team-high 6 assists.

This is the LeVert the Cavs need in the playoff. When the game slows down and offense gets sticky, he’s one of their ways through the muck. It’s not always going to be this good, but capable,

With Okoro, it’s not a massive stat line: 9 point on 6 shooting, 2-3 from three, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. It’s a nice stat line — especially the made threes — but more about the process of how he played. He attacked from the corner, both on cuts and off of the dribble. And he kept attacking even after he was blocked by Embiid twice in the first half. After that, when he should have not, he went a third time and drew a foul on Embiid. Pair that with his defense and he looks like a player who, with some concern about his shot falling, looks like he won’t panic when the playoff roll around.

Three-seed hopes over

This loss likely ends the Cavs’ hopes of getting to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They were unlikely to anyway with the 76ers having a three-game lead entering Wednesday and games in hand. But Philadelphia winning puts Cleveland four games back. The 76ers also now own the tiebreaker with a 2-1 advantage in the season series.

The positive spin is that the Cavs will likely have homecourt still in the first round, likely against the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets. But the hopes of getting a higher seed and a lesser opponent are all but done.

Up next: The Cavs hosting the Washington Wizards on Friday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.