CLEVELAND – Joel Embiid was the focal point in the first half, but it was the Sixers reserves who nearly led a second-half comeback before losing 108-105 against the defending champion Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
After trailing by 15 points early in the third quarter, the Sixers battled back to take a 105-104 lead on two Sergio Rodriguez free throws with 52.8 seconds left to play.
Kay Felder fed Markel Brown for a layup that put the Cavs ahead with 17.9 seconds remaining, and Rodriguez missed a long pull-up 3-pointer with three seconds left.
Embiid exceeded his 12-minute restriction by halftime and finished with 12 points, his highest output of the preseason, to go along with four rebounds, a block, two turnovers and four fouls in 13:23 of floor time.
Richaun Holmes led the Sixers again with 19 points in 25 minutes, following up his 20-point, 12-rebound effort in Thursday’s double-overtime loss to the Wizards.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each scored 15 points for Cleveland before sitting out the second half.
The Sixers fell behind 18-8 early but came back to take a 35-28 lead three minutes into the second quarter. The Cavaliers led 51-47 at halftime.
Inside the box score
Jerami Grant contributed 13 points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks off the bench, and the Sixers out-scored the Cavs by 21 points in the 26 minutes he was on the floor.
Rookie starter Dario Saric scored four points on 1 of 7 shooting and had two assists with one turnover in 18 minutes. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts after going 4 for 6 from long range in the first two preseason games, and his minus-20 rating tied Robert Covington for the team low.
Rodriguez tallied 15 points and eight assists without a turnover in 27 minutes. He came off the bench in the first half but started and finished the second half.
Jordan McRae, who played with the Sixers last preseason, led the Cavs with 20 points, all in the second half. He also had 20 points in Cleveland’s preseason opener.
The Sixers shot 28.6 percent (10 of 35) from 3-point range after making 32 percent from beyond the arc in their first two preseason games.
Undrafted rookie forward Shawn Long had seven points and six rebounds in nine minutes.
Seven Sixers sidelined
Ben Simmons (acute fracture, right foot), Nerlens Noel (left groin strain), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness) and Cat Barber (right hand/wrist injury) did not make the trip to Cleveland. Jahlil Okafor (right knee rehab), Nick Stauskas (left hamstring strain) and Brandon Paul (right oblique muscle contusion) were with the team but did not play.
Holmes (left ankle sprain) and McConnell (right knee contusion) played through injuries sustained in Thursday’s loss to the Wizards.
Tristan Thompson (left foot soreness) sat out for Cleveland.
Uncle Drew debuts
Kyrie Irving made his first preseason appearance for the Cavs. Irving did most of his damage against the Sixers point guards, but got his first bucket on a long jumper when Saric switched onto him.
Irving also made his 2015 debut when the Sixers were in town last December, returning to action six months after he fractured his kneecap in the NBA Finals.
The Sixers continue their three-game road trip Tuesday night at Memphis.