Well that was fun!
The Philadelphia 76ers narrowly defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night by a score of 132-130, and in the process (see what we did there?) have, at least for now, taken over the Eastern Conference 3-seed, half a game up on the Cavs.
What originally looked like a blowout (Philly was up by 30 at one point in the first half) instead turned into a heavyweight fight down to the wire (it took a LeBron James free throw miss and narrow miss on a tip-in).
If we’re lucky, it may also have been a preview of what would be an incredible seven-game series.
Whether we just saw a preview of a potential playoff series or not, what exactly did it teach us about the two teams involved? Let’s break it down:
— The 76ers are legitimately good.
The game came down to the wire, and the second-half showed some of Philly’s flaws, but there’s a reason they ran out to a 30-point lead and a reason they ultimately won the game. And don’t forget — they did so without Joel Embiid, who would have served as a much-needed defensive presence in the second half, when the Cavs at times had their way with the Sixers on offense.
Ben Simmons was the best player on the court in the first half, putting up his 12th triple-double of the season and routinely making passes that shouldn’t be possible for mere mortals. JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli provide three-point shooting that will always keep the Sixers in games, Markelle Fultz continued to look good off the bench, and again, this was without a major contributor on both ends of the court.
The Sixers were all about The Process. It’s clear now that that process has produced a team that can be very, very dangerous, and that includes this season.
— LeBron James is not human.
LeBron began Friday’s game 1-of-7 from the field. He finished the game 17-of-29 from the field with his own triple-double — 44 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists — and was one missed free throw (on a questionable call, no doubt) from sending the game to overtime. He completely took over the game, was effective both down low and from three (4-for-8), and facilitated for teammates Jeff Green (33 points), Kevin Love (17 points) and others.
James eclipsed the 31,000-point threshold in this one — the youngest to ever do it — and continues to show absolutely no signs of slowing down despite his advancing age and incredible NBA mileage. If Simmons was the best player on the court in the first half, James once again proved to be the best player on the planet in the second.
— Both teams still have their warts.
Don’t forget, Cleveland allowed 78 first-half points and fell down by 30. Also don’t forget, Philadelphia allowed 75 second-half points and nearly blew that aforementioned 30-point lead. Both teams looked sloppy at times with 26 total turnovers, and both looked lost on defense for long stretches.
Each team spent a half utterly dominating the other. While that makes for a supremely entertaining game, it also shows both teams have plenty to work on with the postseason just around the corner.
— A Cavs-Sixers playoff series would be amazing.
Cue “Stefon” voice from SNL: That game had everything.
Well, almost everything.
Imagine taking that kind of back-and-forth slugfest, with Simmons and James taking turns wowing the world, add a dash of Joel Embiid, and then do it four-to-seven times in a span of two weeks.
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