Cleveland sends down upstart Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Cleveland 113, Philadelphia 91 – Box Score

In the highly anticipated first meeting between Ben Simmons and LeBron James, two generations of Klutch Sports stars, it’s safe to say the student has not yet become the teacher.

Monday night was the rare occasion when Simmons actually looked like a rookie, struggling with a Cleveland defense that often picked him up in the backcourt. The former LSU Tiger was held to 10 points and 2 assists (against 4 turnovers) before leaving the the game with 5 minutes left due to a sprained right ankle. Defensively, although he recorded 3 steals, Simmons looked disengaged, falling victim to some backdoor cuts and letting his man track down offensive rebounds.

At tip-off, the Sixers tried having Simmons defend LeBron and the King was not amused. James went off for 13 points in the game’s first 5 minutes, ending the night with a tone-setting 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. LeBron showed off his improved shooting stroke, hitting 3 of 7 shots from behind the arc. The way in which he continues to enhance his game each and every year, even now at age 32, is a marvel.

Surprisingly though, it was when LeBron took a seat that the Cavaliers did the bulk of their damage; Cleveland outscored the Sixers by 21 points with James on the bench. Dwayne Wade turned back the clock for short stints, getting to the rim and hitting fall-away jumpers like it was 2005; Flash ended his night with 15 points, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. The frequently invisible Jeff Green was somehow the most energetic player on the court, collecting 4 of his 10 rebounds on the offensive glass, to go along with 14 points. Channing Frye and Kyle Korver efficiently spaced the floor, combining to knock down 5 of 8 shots from behind the arc.

Meanwhile, knocking down shots from behind the arc was a skill that almost entirely eluded the Sixers on the evening. As a team, Philadelphia shot an ice-cold 3-28 (10.7%) from downtown. Robert Covington regressed his season’s percentages to the mean in a hurry, going 0-9 from three for just 2 points on the night. J.J. Redick hit just a single three, while missing a handful of wide-open lay-ups in shooting 4-16 from the field.

With little help from the supporting cast, the lone Sixers bright spot was the man in the middle, Joel Embiid. The 2017 Rookie of the Year in our hearts, Embiid bullied Kevin Love and Channing Frye on the interior on his way to 30 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 16 in the third quarter alone, at one point cutting the deficit all the way to three before another Cavaliers bench surge put the game out of reach for good.

Embiid knocked down 8 of 9 shots from the foul line, and it was hilarious to see the entire Cavaliers bench explode whenever Joel received a superstar call on a rip-through move or a contested face-up jumper around the paint. The fact that the Sixers even have a player capable of receiving superstar calls is cause for celebration, even on a night largely devoid of good feelings for Sixers fans.

After a string of blowout victories, Monday was a stark reminder that this is still a young Sixers squad with a lot to learn. You’re not often going to win shooting under 11% from three, but it was still a largely lackluster and disappointing effort in other areas. Philadelphia will look to bounce back Wednesday night against the John Wall-less Wizards.

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