This was a game you looked at on the schedule and chalked up as a Sixers’ win.
The lowly Cavaliers — whose front office is more interested in possibly getting Zion Williamson than winning basketball games — were in town. They were missing their best player in Kevin Love and were coming off a big win Monday night against Toronto.
The Sixers even recalled Zhaire Smith from Delaware before the game. The rookie would’ve served as a human victory cigar had he gotten into the game for his NBA debut.
Instead, the Sixers turned the ball over 21 times and barely escaped Tuesday with a 106-99 win at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
After Sunday’s huge win over the Pacers, Brett Brown acknowledged that his players are aware that “it’s getting to be go time.”
It certainly it didn’t look like “go time” Tuesday night.
“I think it felt like that, too,” Brown said when asked if he felt his team took the Cavs for granted. “I didn’t feel it in the first period. We held them to 12 points and we started well, and then they jumped into it. Cleveland jumped into it with 35 points and I thought that Cleveland’s middle two periods, our defense was a C-minus. I thought our sandwich, our first and our fourth, was OK. But in general, I thought … we could have been more urgent for longer and we weren’t.”
The biggest culprit Brown and his players pointed to was the turnovers — and rightfully so. The Sixers held Cleveland below 40 percent from the field while shooting nearly 50 percent themselves. They outrebounded the Cavs, 60-37.
But the Sixers lost the turnover battle, 21-7. A few of those occurred during dribble handoffs between Joel Embiid and JJ Redick, a staple of the team’s offense.
While Redick attributed some of it to Embiid not having played for a few weeks, he conceded that the Sixers know they weren’t at their best.
“We’ve lost a couple of games this year like this game,” Redick said. “In that sense, it wasn’t frustrating because we got a win, but the mood in the locker room was definitely one where we feel like we could play better. The second and third period defensively wasn’t great and the other two quarters were phenomenal so the level of consistency there wasn’t great.”
Embiid also shrugged off the issues with him and Redick in the two-man game, but was pretty forthright in his assessment of his performance tonight.
“I was trash,” Embiid said.
While you have to appreciate the candidness, it’s not entirely true. Embiid’s presence on defense was felt by the Cavs, especially in the last minute of the game. With Cleveland trailing by three with under a minute to go, big man Ante Zizic had a chance to make it a one-point game. Instead, Embiid met him at the rim and helped seal the win.
It was going to be tough to replicate that 33-point performance against Indiana. On Tuesday, you saw that Embiid is still shaking off rust on the offensive end of the floor.
But in each of the last two games, you see the huge difference the All-Star center makes on the defensive end.
“I felt like tonight, I really had to focus defensively, and that’s my job every game,” Embiid said. “They just kept getting a lot of easy baskets and I had to do my job.
“I’m glad we got the win.”
There are no style points for playoff seeding. There will be no asterisk next to win No. 43.
Just clean it up and look for No. 44 Friday.
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