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CLEVELAND, OH – Brett Brown knew going into Friday’s game in Cleveland that the Cavaliers were capable of flipping the switch at any moment.
In their 122-105 triumph over the 76ers, the defending champs did just that.
Having dropped a season-high tying three straight games, and five of seven overall heading into Friday’s affair, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and company responded in resounding fashion.
En route to a dynamic showing, James used a series of runout dunks late in the first half to put Cleveland squarely in control of Friday’s sold out tilt at Quicken Loans Arena. His final box line was highlighted by 34 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.
“I think they played at a championship level,” Brett Brown said afterwards about the performance of James and the Cavaliers. “They were able to take their frustrations out on us, and were able to score too freely in the second period.”
Cleveland cranked out 38 points in the game-changing quarter.
Irving, who didn’t mix words recently in expressing his frustration with the Cavaliers’ efforts of late, took the court with purpose. Relying on an array of pull-up jump shots and determined drives to the basket, the point guard snapped off 11 of his 24 points in the opening quarter, very much serving as Cleveland’s sparkplug.
Love, meanwhile, looked a lot like the player who earlier this season was named an All-Star for the first time since joining the Cavaliers three years ago. The forward racked up 18 points and 10 rebounds for his 35th double-double of the campaign, and showed no signs of the left knee pain that kept him sidelined for a month up until his return to action two weeks ago.
J.R. Smith supplied Cleveland with an impactful perimeter punch, netting 14 points behind four triples. Midway through the third period, he blocked a shot, recovered the loose ball, sped down the floor, and flushed a transition three to widen the gap to 27 points. The Cavs would go on to carry a game-high 32-point margin into the fourth frame, and never looked back.
”There is always a level of toughness, and always a level of ‘can you guard your man,’” said Brown, who was wary just how dangerous Cleveland could be in isolation. “I think game plan wise, we moved to the side a little bit, and weren’t as diligent as we needed to be. We just weren’t able to individually guard people one-on-one, especially in the first half and the second period.”
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot set a new personal-best Friday with 19 points, sharing team-high scoring honors with Richaun Holmes. Justin Anderson registered his first double-double of the season, and second of his career, manufacturing 12 points and 10 boards.
“We got into foul trouble early,” said Anderson, who, starting in place of the injured Robert Covington (right knee), had accounted for seven points, five rebounds, and two assists before picking up a second personal foul midway through Friday’s first quarter. “That is the one thing I can look back on.
“Things didn’t fall for us, but we don’t want to take anything for granted. They played hard, we played hard. It just wasn’t our night, I guess.”
In two previous meetings with Cleveland this season, the Sixers had held their own, dropping both November pairings at The Center by a total of five points. Over the five months that have passed, a lot has changed for the Sixers and Cavaliers alike, either by chance (the Sixers and their injuries) or by choice (the Cavs and their veteran roster additions).
Twelve minutes into Friday’s contest, it appeared as if the Sixers and Cavaliers had another competitive clash on their hands. Led by Luwawu-Cabarrot and Dario Saric, the visitors showed no back-down against their seasoned hosts, at one point grabbing an early three-point lead on a Saric bank shot.
By the time the first quarter had come to a close, there were already 10 lead changes and five ties. Luwawu-Cabarrot had tallied nine points, and the Sixers trailed by only three points, 32-29.
Upon retaking the floor, the Sixers ran into trouble, and quickly. Turnovers conspired against them, as James ripped off eight points in a row to give Cleveland its first double-figure advantage of the evening.
Later in the second period, giveaways reared their heads ugly once more. Again, James was there to feast.
On the first of three straight possessions on which the Sixers committed cough-ups, the four-time MVP served up an alley-oop lay-in for Love. Seconds later, James sprinted to the cup to turn a Smith steal into a breakaway slam, before capping the dramatic spurt by jamming home an own alley-oop dunk of his own that resulted from a turnover caused by Irving.
The score stood at 65-42, and James had sent the capacity crowd of 20,562 into a frenzy. For Cleveland, there was no turning back.
Friday marked the Cavaliers’ sixth and final ‘Hardwood Classic Night’ of the season, giving the team one last chance to don its mid-1980s burnt orange throwback “CAVS” uniforms in honor of a pivotal era for the franchise. One of Cleveland’s key players during that period was none other than World B. Free, himself a prominent figure in Sixers’ history, too. The Cavs flew Free into Cleveland for Friday’s game, and, during a first quarter timeout, introduced him on the court as a “Cavaliers legend” who “helped save Cleveland basketball.” The former All-Star guard, always nattily-clad, received a hearty ovation. As the footage below shows, he seemed to genuinely appreciate the moment.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 31, 2017
Sunday in Toronto, the Sixers will reach the end of a lengthy, three-plus week run on the road, as they complete a stretch that’s required them to play 11 of 14 games away from South Philadelphia. The team’s two-game weekend trek doesn’t figure to get any easier, though. Like Friday’s opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors also are aiming to secure home court advantage for at least the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Struggling heading into the All-Star break, Toronto has since experienced a dramatic reversal of fortunes, and essentially solidified a top-four spot in the standings in the process. Prior to Wednesday’s four-point loss to Charlotte, the Raptors had matched a season-high by winning six consecutive contests.
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