Sixers get most improbable win of all on road trip

Sixers get most improbable win of all on road trip


CLEVELAND — Of the games on the Sixers’ three-stop road trip, a win over the Cavaliers seemed the least likely. The Wizards and Heat? Sure, that should have been doable. A victory in Cleveland? The Sixers hadn’t achieved that since March 29, 2013. 

Yet it was in the more improbable matchup against the third-seeded team in the Eastern Conference that they came out on top, 108-97 (see observations)

"We won't get too ahead of ourselves,” Brett Brown said. “We're proud of the win. Anytime you can beat a team that LeBron James plays on, you must have done something fairly decent."

The Sixers knew from their previous two losses they would have to clamp down defensively, especially with the new-look Cavs averaging 114.6 points since the trade deadline roster overhaul.

Cutting back on turnovers was critical; they committed 10 against the Cavs compared to 23 against the Heat on Tuesday. They also had to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ missing pieces — Kevin Love (left hand fracture) and J.R. Smith (team suspension). 

And then there’s containing James. He’s capable of going for 40, 50 points any given night. On Thursday, that number was 30. James led all players in scoring while adding nine rebounds and eight assists. 

James, the potentially soon-to-be free agent who wore blue sneakers amid rumors of him touring Philadelphia-area schools (which he denied), was complimentary of the ascending Sixers. 

“You give credit where credit is due,” James said. “I think Philly played well.”

This matchup always is a good measuring stick on both ends of the floor for Ben Simmons, who now has faced James three times his rookie season. Simmons neared a triple-double (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) while learning from facing his big brother-type.

“It’s fun because I know he’s a great, competitive player and I’m the same way,” Simmons said. “Playing against him, obviously one of the best to play the game, so it’s a great vibe out there. The whole team is into it and it’s very competitive. That was a big win for us.”

The game wasn’t all handshakes and smiles. With the Sixers up eight and 12.2 seconds to play, Dario Saric dunked to push the lead. Jordan Clarkson took exception to Saric scoring rather than holding the possession and threw the ball off Saric’s back. Clarkson was ejected.

“Basketball," Clarkson said. "That’s it. Part of the game. If anybody says different or they want to think they would’ve done something different or anything else, they’re lying, especially if it was that point in the game.”

Saric was taken aback by Clarkson’s reaction but offered an apology on the play. 

"I thought we are NBA players," Saric said. "To be mad on something like that, for me, is like a little bit weird. But I want to apologize to the organization, to them, to fans. It's not against somebody. It's not like intentional."

The Sixers are looking to bring this momentum back to the Wells Fargo Center for Friday’s game against the Hornets before heading back on the road to face another series of playoff teams, starting Sunday in Milwaukee. 

Sixers vs. Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 3:55 p.m.

The Sixers suffered one of their worst letdown losses of last season to the Cavaliers in November, a 121-112 defeat at Wells Fargo Center in which Tristan Thompson grabbed twice as many offensive rebounds (eight) as their entire team.

Sitting at 6-3, they’ll aim to avoid a similar effort Tuesday night when they play the 4-5 Cavs.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

The injury situation 

Al Horford is out (rest), Trey Burke is , Trey Burke is out  (left calf tightness) and both Ben Simmons and Shake Milton are available.

The Sixers will again likely need to lean on their bench, which currently has a plus-0.3 plus-minus. The Sixers’ bench hasn’t finished with a positive plus-minus since the 2011-12 season. 

Two teenagers to watch

Cavs head coach John Beilein gives significant minutes to two players younger than many he coached at the University of Michigan, a pair of 19-year-old rookies. No. 5 overall pick Darius Garland starts for Cleveland, and Kevin Porter Jr., the last pick in the first round, comes off the bench.

Twenty-year-old Collin Sexton scored 23 points against the Sixers twice last year and has maintained his efficiency from three-point range at a higher volume. He’s hitting 42.2 perfect from beyond the arc on 5.0 attempts per game. Sexton scored a career-high 31 points in the Cavs’ win Sunday over the Knicks, their second straight victory on the road.

‘Talent does not trump time’

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted, the Cavs’ starting five has played 142 minutes together and has a plus-16.1 net rating.

The Sixers’ normal starters, in contrast, have played 100 fewer minutes with each other, posting a plus-15.1 net rating.

Brett Brown said before the Sixers’ win over the Hornets Sunday that his biggest takeaway from the team’s 1-3 West Coast road trip was “the confirmation that talent does not trump time.” His starters just haven’t had much time together yet, and Tuesday’s game will be another without his preferred top five.

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Away from the cameras, Josh Richardson builds special bond with his 14-year-old mentee, Elijah Byrd

Photo courtesy of Sixers.com

Away from the cameras, Josh Richardson builds special bond with his 14-year-old mentee, Elijah Byrd

The first time Josh Richardson met his mentee, 14-year-old Elijah Byrd, he pulled him over to the side, away from the cameras.

“This isn’t just for the screen,” Elijah recalls Richardson saying. “I'm not doing this to just show that I'm a good guy and everything. If you want to hit me up, hit me up whenever you need.”

Elijah admits he was skeptical at first, and so was his mother, Jessica. Richardson and Elijah were paired up as part of the Sixers' "Walk In My Shoes" mentorship program. Both Elijah and his mom quickly realized that Richardson wasn’t kidding around.

“He put his name in my phone as big bro!” Jessica remembers her son saying that day, smiling from ear to ear.  

“That in itself was worth the two-hour long journey to get there that day,” Jessica says of their trek out to the Sixers' Blue x White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. “That smile is what makes everything worth it.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           (Photo courtesy of Sixers.com)

That first meeting was just the beginning.

Shortly thereafter, Richardson invited Byrd to the Philadelphia Union game. There were no cameras ...

“Josh was like, ‘You rolling with us?’ And I was like, 'Wait what did you say? Repeat that,'" Elijah remembers, stunned. “I was like, 'You have no idea what this means to me.' I was freaking out.”

Elijah and his mom both got to meet Richardson's family that day, an important step for a protective mother.

Jessica admits it’s been tough to let her only son go but she realizes now that she couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

The fact that Richardson also grew up in a military household is an added bonus. Richardson’s mother, Alice, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force Reserves. Elijah’s father and Jessica’s late husband, LCPL John T. Byrd, lost his life serving as a marine in Iraq in 2004. They buried him on Veterans Day 15 years ago.

“I’m really here for him,” Richardson says. “I tried to make it a point off the bat, so his mom and his family could feel comfortable with me.”

“There was a lot of fear in my mom heart about what most of this would look like, but I was mostly worried about my sons’ spirit being crushed, if he had dreams and expectations and it ended up not happening,” Jessica admits. “But Josh just seems so humble. I feel like in regards to being a mentor, he's perfect for Elijah, teaching him some humility, and nutrition and good work ethic.”

“He’s kinda like me, honestly,” Richardson says of Elijah. “We don’t really talk a lot around new people and I understand how to approach that. He’s shy at first, but once you kind of get to know him and get talking to him, he’s really funny, he’s expressive.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (Photo courtesy of Sixers.com) 

Elijah’s spirits have been far from crushed. On Sunday night, which also coincided with Military Appreciation Night, Elijah was out on the court at Wells Fargo Center helping Richardson go through his pregame warmup prior to being introduced as the Strong Kid of the Game.

And as for that smile that his mom drove two hours to see last month, it was back and brighter than ever.

“It was really fun,” Elijah says moments after running off the court with his new friend. “I was kinda freaking out, though, because Mike Scott was also there shooting free throws … but it's not just Mike Scott, it's Mike Scott! I was freaking out.”

“I’ll holler at you after, bro,” Richardson shouts out in the hallway.

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