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.
“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.