Absent any information on and about the Sixers’ homestand yesterday, National Basketball Association habitues can be forgiven for making assumptions in support of the final score. That the hosts had a close call against the otherwise-stumbling Cavaliers gave rise to speculation that All-Star Joel Embiid was again sidelined, and that visiting counterpart Kevin Love, meanwhile, had a monster outing. In truth, it was the opposite, the former managed to burn rubber for 34 minutes, while the latter stuck to schedule and rested.
To be sure, the Sixers didn’t have their full complement; starter Jimmy Butler was likewise held out. Still, there can be no excusing their effort, or, to be more precise, relative lack thereof; they blitzed the Cavaliers early as expected, but then fell prey to careless mistakes and allowed the supposed patsies to keep close the rest of the way. A whopping 21 turnovers and just 85 field goal attempts all told against one of the league’s most porous defenses helped tell the tale. And, significantly, Embiid himself proved far from his best; in a performance he described as “trash,” he canned only six of 16 stabs at the basket on aggregate.
In the end, though, the Sixers were simply too talented to lose, even on an evident off day. They held the Cavaliers to under 40% shooting and grabbed 60 rebounds, 19 by Embiid. And, significantly, he was solid in the clutch; with the red, white, and blue up by just one in the final minute, he came up with an offensive rebound, a dunk, a block, and four straight free throws to ensure victory. If nothing else, it provided even more evidence of his importance to the cause of the Finals hopefuls.
Perhaps the Sixers are already looking ahead to the postseason. They likely figured the Cavaliers, on the second day of a back-to-back set, would be fodder at the Wells Fargo Center, and so acted accordingly. In keeping Butler off-duty, though, they failed to account for highly motivated opponents fresh from an emphatic triumph versus the powerhouse Raptors. Their gamble ultimately paid off despite their foibles, but because of Embiid, and not without a scare. In any case, he’s not worried. “By playoff time, we’ll be back to normal,” he said. Needless to say, fans have their fingers crossed he’s right.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.