CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It felt like a film the Cleveland Cavaliers had seen before. Right down to the ending.
In a game that went to the wire, the Cavaliers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers for the fourth time this season, 112-108. Cleveland is 43-36, now 2.5 games back of the Chicago Bulls for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed and only 1.5 games ahead of the surging Atlanta Hawks for seventh.
In a hard-fought, back-and-forth matchup that featured 14 lead changes and 11 ties, the Cavs had their chances. They led by 12 at one point in the first half. They were ahead by six at halftime. Had possession and an opportunity for the go-ahead bucket in the final 30 seconds. But the Cavs couldn’t come up with the clutch plays when they needed them most.
Trailing by one point, All-Star point guard Darius Garland drove right of the lane, took contact from Sixers center Joel Embiid and missed everything but the glass on a difficult leaner. One empty offensive trip.
Following the miss, James Harden made a pair of clutch free throws to give the 76ers a three-point lead. With 11.2 seconds remaining, Cleveland had yet another chance. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff called timeout, drew up a sidelines out of bounds play and inserted veteran Kevin Love to be the inbounder. Love’s errant pass was intercepted by Matisse Thybulle who then flipped the ball ahead to Tobias Harris for a breakaway dunk, an exclamation point on the series sweep. Another empty offensive trip.
Embiid, Philly’s MVP candidate was questionable to play because of a sore ankle. In the early going, he looked a bit hobbled. Embiid started 1-of-6 from the field. Only that didn’t last. Like every other matchup between these two teams, Embiid dominated Cleveland’s helpless frontcourt. He finished with 44 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks and three assists. He went 12-of-26 from the field and 17-of-20 from the foul line.
As Embiid stepped to the line in the closing seconds, MVP chants started ringing through Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, drowning out the other boos from the hometown crowd.
Even on the road, Embiid earned them.
Harden added a triple-double, with 21 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He went 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.
The Cavs were led by Garland, who poured in 23 points, but shot just 2-of-7 in the decisive fourth quarter. Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens had 18 points apiece. Lauri Markkanen (16) and Love (12) also reached double figures.
The Sixers are the better team. They have been all year. But when the regular season wraps this coming weekend, the Cavs may regret the missed opportunities throughout. Sunday’s loss being the latest.
The postseason is right around the corner and backup point guard Rajon Rondo has earned the nickname “Playoff Rondo” for a reason. Playing his first game since March 12, when he sprained his right ankle, The Cavs are hoping Rondo can play in these final games and get his body ready for the postseason. On Sunday night, Rondo scored six points to go with two assists and two steals in 14 minutes.
The Cavs will head on their final road trip of the regular season, with the first stop in Orlando on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Get the latest Cavs merchandise: Here’s where you can order Cleveland Cavaliers gear online, including jerseys, shirts, hats, 2016 NBA Champions products and much more.
Buy Cavs gear: Fanatics, Nike, Amazon, Lids
More Cavaliers coverage
Cavaliers gaining valuable experience during playoff race
Cavaliers put on an MSG show in topping Knicks
Allen, Mobley not expected to play Sunday, but return still ‘hopeful’ before finale
How is Sexton’s recovery going? Hey, Chris!
Osman exits doghouse, gives Bickerstaff what he’s been wanting
Cavaliers crushed by Atlanta
James biopic ‘Shooting Stars’ to film in Cleveland and Akron, needs extras
Shorthanded Cavs can’t stop Doncic, Mavericks
LeVert starting to work his way into form
Brown signed to two-way contract