76ers make statement with road win over Cavaliers

A return to the postseason is starting to look like a real possibility for the Philadelphia 76ers, who last made the playoffs in 2012 and posted one of the worst teams in NBA history over the last four years. The 2017-18 season has been a remarkable improvement for the 76ers, who moved into a relatively comfortable playoff spot during a seven-game win streak in February and showed their playoff readiness on Thursday in a 108-97 road win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cleveland was the best team in the Eastern Conference during Philadelphia’s time at the bottom, and the Cavaliers entered Thursday’s contest with an 11-game winning streak against the 76ers. But it was the 76ers who controlled the pace inside Cleveland’s arena, never allowing the Cavaliers to take the lead at any point during the game. Philadelphia employed a balanced attack with all five starters scoring in double figures, including a team-leading 22 points from JJ Redick.

LeBron James led all scorers with 30 points, adding 9 rebounds and 8 assists as well, but it wasn’t enough to counter Philadelphia’s dual threat of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Simmons produced an efficient 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, while Embiid grabbed a game-high 14 boards to go with his 17 points and 6 assists. The 76ers had a sizeable advantage on the glass all game, and weathered numerous runs from Cleveland before closing with a 13-3 run.

The Cavaliers are once again widely considered to be the team to beat in the East following their roster overhaul at the trade deadline, but they aren’t likely to finish the season higher than third in the conference due to the gap between them and the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics at the top of the standings. Cleveland’s weaker playoff seeding lends an extra layer of drama to matchups like Thursday’s against a Philadelphia team that would face the Cavaliers in the opening round if the playoffs began tomorrow. The 76ers proved they’re comfortable winning on Cleveland’s home court, which should give the Cavaliers something to think about as the postseason approaches.

The pain of Thursday’s loss got the better of Cavaliers backup point guard Jordan Clarkson, who took exception to a basket by Philadelphia’s Dario Saric late in the game and deliberately threw the ball at Saric. Clarkson was tossed from the game while a shouting match ensued on the court. The Cavaliers and the 76ers will have one more opportunity to renew hostilities during the season when they meet in Philadelphia on April 6, with the possibility of a playoff series looming.