SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt and AJ Neuharth-Keusch break down the roller coaster seasons of the Cavaliers and Thunder. USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA – The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 113-91 in a hyped Eastern Conference matchup. Here are key takeaways from Cleveland’s victory:
LeBron’s James did what he does: Putting together one of the best seasons of his career on the verge of turning 33 years old, James had 30 points (in 31 minutes), 13 rebounds and six assists. He shot 12-of-22 from the field, including 3-of-7 on three-pointers. He scored 22 of his points in the first half including 15 in the first quarter.
Cavs defending: Cleveland held the Sixers to 37.5% shooting, including 10.7% (3-for-28) on three-pointers. The Sixers missed all 11 three-point attempts in the first half. In the previous seven games – all Cavs victories – they allowed 101.8 points per 100 possessions, a considerable improvement over their season average of 108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Cavs are far from the best defensive team in the league, but their improvement during this eight-game winning streak is noticeable.
Sixers’ young players get a lesson: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are outstanding. But they learned just how difficult it is to beat a team like Cleveland. Embiid had 30 points and 11 rebounds, but he was just 11-of-24 from the field. Simmons, who sprained his right ankle, had 11 points and eight rebounds but just two assists. Before the game, Sixers coach Brett Brown shut down the Simmons-James comparison. He said it was reckless to compare a future Hall of Famer – one of the best to ever play in the NBA – to a guy playing in his first NBA season. “Ask me later, a few years from now,” Brown said before the game.
Three ball makes a difference: It’s difficult beating any NBA team with just three three-pointers. And even more difficult against the one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams. Robert Covington missed his nine three-point attempts, J.J. Redick was 1-of-4 and Dario Saric was 0-of-3. The Cavs made 15 threes and shot 40.5% from that distance. Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith were each 3-for-5 on threes, and Channing Frye made 2-of-3.
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