The Sixers sure did not enter the All-Star break in the most convincing fashion Wednesday night.
They finished things off with a win, though, holding on to a lead as large as 28 points and taking a 118-112 victory over the Cavs at Wells Fargo Center.
Six Sixers scored in double figures. Joel Embiid recorded 29 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. James Harden had 19 points and 12 assists.
Donovan Mitchell scored 33 points and Darius Garland had 27 for the Cavs.
Cleveland’s Ricky Rubio (illness) and Cedi Osman (neck spasms) were out. Furkan Korkmaz missed a second straight game for personal reasons.
Here are observations on the 38-19 Sixers' final game before they host the Grizzlies next Thursday:
Harris features in torrid start
Tobias Harris drew the difficult assignment of All-Star guard Mitchell.
Other than getting beaten to two rebounds by Mitchell, Harris had a solid start defensively. He also knocked down his first two catch-and-shoot three-pointers. Heading into the game, Harris had made just 28.6 percent of his threes over his last 25 contests.
He was not the only Sixer to begin sweetly from long range. Every Sixer on the floor besides Embiid made a three during a 6-for-6 start from three-point territory. The Cavs missed their first four threes and appeared somewhat rattled by the Sixers’ early surge. Evan Mobley had a couple of odd turnovers when he wasn’t on the same wavelength as his teammates. Fueled by Harden’s hit-ahead passes, the Sixers gleefully capitalized on those giveaways and went up 31-10 on a De’Anthony Melton fast-break layup. Harden notched eight points and eight assists in an impressive opening quarter.
Meanwhile, the Sixers didn’t commit any turnovers until a Georges Niang moving screen with 34.3 seconds left in the first period. Their lead swelled so fast in large part due to unsustainably hot shooting, but the team obviously did a lot well in the first quarter. Nothing wrong with Harris seeing some threes drop, too. PJ Tucker also had a nice shooting game, scoring 10 points and making 4 of his 5 field goals.
Embiid hits milestone, helps Sixers (just about) hold on
With a lefty, and-one layup against Mobley with 7:34 to go in the first, Embiid reached 10,000 career points in his 373rd career game. He passed Allen Iverson as the fastest Sixer to hit that mark.
Cleveland did not swarm Embiid with immediate double teams, so Embiid initially adopted a relatively unselfish, deliberate approach. The results were mixed. Given more time than usual to read the defense, he sometimes threw unnecessarily tricky passes. He also seemed to occasionally try to anticipate openings that either didn’t exist or weren’t available exactly when he expected. Still, the broad, basic aim of beating double teams by finding whichever teammate is open makes sense. Mobley’s presence as a high-level roaming defender made that task harder Wednesday night.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers played Paul Reed as Embiid’s backup for the fourth straight game. Reed brought his typical chaos to the table and much of it was good in the first half. He blocked Garland after recovering swiftly on a pick-and-roll, threw down a put-back dunk, and hustled all around the floor. Reed also displayed decent control as a scrambler and didn’t invite the Cavs to draw fouls with wild closeouts. The whole second unit matched Reed’s defensive effort, too.
Embiid settled for more and more contested jumpers as the game wore on. While some of the attempts were perhaps the best shots the Sixers could’ve managed, Embiid certainly did not appear in command against Jarrett Allen and the Cavs. The Sixers’ lead began to shrink during a poor stretch in the third quarter that included a shot-clock violation and Embiid having the ball stripped off of him by Garland. Cleveland cut its deficit to 80-68 when Jalen McDaniels fouled Mitchell behind the arc and he converted all three free throws.
Three-pointers from Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton helped the Sixers restore a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter. However, the Cavs did not go away and the Sixers aided them with turnovers and fouls. Mitchell blew by McDaniels and made an and-one layup, Mobley slammed in an and-one dunk, and the Sixers led by a mere 10 points when Rivers called timeout with 7:24 remaining.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Embiid then elevated his game and increased his aggression. He scored inside on Allen through contact, drew two free throws, and generally looked aware that the Sixers needed him to hold off the Cavs' comeback threat. After a Caris LeVert three trimmed the Sixers' edge to 106-98, Embiid responded with a tough fadeaway jumper.
The Sixers simply could not stop the Cavs and finally cement a win, though. Mitchell made an incredible, off-balance three and Allen's put-back layup cut Cleveland's deficit to 112-108.
Of course, the Cavs coming all the way back was always very improbable. The Sixers eventually got a couple of the Cleveland misses they required to close it out.
Green and Dedmon back in the building
Danny Green got warm applause from the home crowd when he checked into the game in the middle of the second quarter.
While the Sixers’ sizable lead perhaps played a small role in that reaction, the fans undoubtedly appreciated Green’s first action in Philadelphia since he suffered a devastating knee injury during the team’s season-ending loss last year to the Heat. Green guarded Harden and did his best to be pesky, though he did not have a huge impact. He played 12 minutes in his first game since signing with the Cavs and posted three points on 1-for-4 shooting.
Dewayne Dedmon was available, but he did not join Green in making his season debut for a team he first played with as a rookie.
Before the game, Rivers described Dedmon as “another center” now in the mix and said he anticipates the 33-year-old’s size will be helpful at times. Following the Sixers' shootaround Wednesday morning, Dedmon was unsure how the team planned to use him.
“Not really," he said. “We’ll see as it comes, as time goes on. At the end of the day, it’s basketball. Got to come in and defend first, so that’s what I’ll bring.”
He'll presumably gain more clarity over the All-Star break, which the Sixers have reached on a four-game winning streak and third in the Eastern Conference standings.