LeBron James procures a rebound in the corner, then fires a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer against the 76ers.
PHILADELPHIA — The once ridiculed and now widely praised “process” being embarked upon by the 76ers adjusted its gaze from the hope of future glory to a litmus test in the present on Monday, when the current kings of the Eastern Conference came to town.
“This is like NBA royalty,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said before the game. “And you don’t back away from it. You’re not intimidated by it. You embrace it. I said a while ago, the group isn’t coming here looking for autographs. We’re here to win a game.”
Cleveland won, however, 113-91, recording its eighth straight victory — despite the All-Star point guard it traded for in the offseason donning street clothes, the former MVP point guard it signed in the summer on a self-imposed exile and its starting shooting guard reeling from the death of a family member.
And those plucky processors from Philly put a scare in yet another championship contender; the only losses in the Sixers’ past seven games are to the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors.
James finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Dwyane Wade tallied 15 points as one of three Cavs bench players scoring in double digits.
The Cleveland defense held Philadelphia to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field. The 76ers shot 10.7 percent from 3 (3-of-28), the second-lowest mark by any team that has taken at least 20 attempts in a game this season. Philadelphia entered Monday’s contest averaging 11 3-pointers per game.
The hype machine was in full effect for the matchup, with the Wells Fargo Center as alive as it has been since Allen Iverson was in his prime. There was an increased presence in James’ business associates than you would find at a typical non-New York, non-Los Angeles road game — with James’ agent, Rich Paul, sitting courtside across from the Cavs bench, and James’ partner, Maverick Carter, sitting courtside next to the Sixers’ substitutes there to watch the four-time MVP against the leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year in Ben Simmons.
“It’s not about me vs. Ben,” James said at shootaround. “It’s about the Cavs vs. the 76ers.”
The story of the game really became about Wade vs. the 76ers’ bench, however. And during a key sequence in the fourth quarter, it became about Wade and James vs. Joel Embiid.
Wade blocked the Sixers center on one end, and James, matched up with him on the perimeter on the other end and calmly dropped in a 3-pointer over the 7-footer to put the Cavs up by 17 with 6:45 remaining in the game. James punctuated the play with something to say to Embiid, causing the big man to drop his head at first, before flashing a smile back at James as he walked to the bench.
Before the Cavs’ duo put the finishing touches on the win, it was Wade who set the Cavs’ night up for success, fueling a 10-0 Cleveland run to finish the first quarter. The total bench scoring for the game was 57-30 in Cleveland’s favor.
Embiid made things interesting in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his 30 points to cut a once 14-point Cavs lead down to just three, but Cleveland was back up by 13 to start the fourth quarter.
By the time the Sixers announced halfway through the fourth that Simmons’ night was over early after a meager (by his standards, at least) 10-point, eight-rebound output, thanks to a right ankle sprain, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue had already pulled his starters with the victory already comfortably secured.
JR Smith, visibly shaken before the game after the death of his cousin, had 11 points on 4 for 6 shooting and was greeted by hugs when he came to the bench.
And the present, at least for a night, prevailed over the process.