CLEVELAND – One would have expected 76ers coach Brett Brown to be giddy after Thursday night’s 108-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There was no denying that this was a big win. It snapped the Sixers’ 11-game losing streak to the three-time Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. It was a much-needed road win against a quality opponent in a hostile environment.
Before Thursday, the Sixers (33-27) had lost two straight and six of seven road games. Their lone win during that stretch was a one-point victory over the lowly Chicago Bulls.
Yet Brown was far from satisfied while standing inside an interview room at Quickens Loans Arena.
“I just feel like we have more to give,” he said.
While the Sixers were impressive, Brown realized they were far from flawless.
They had a commanding 13-point lead (84-71) with 9 minutes, 7 seconds left that was cut to a point (95-94) with 2:25 remaining. But the Sixers responded by closing out the game with a 13-3 run.
They also won despite making just 66.7 percent (18 of 27) of their foul shots. Robert Covington, one of their go-to three-point shooters, missed his final six three-pointers to finish 2 for 8 from that distance. And the coach would have liked to have gotten newly re-signed power forward Ersan Ilyasova more involved.
“I’m greedy,” Brown said.
Make that greedy and realistic.
He knows that on most nights his team isn’t good enough to beat an NBA power without playing a complete game.
On this night, the Sixers beat a Cleveland squad headlined by four-time MVP LeBron James, regarded as the best player in the world. The MVP of last month’s NBA All-Star Game was his dominant self, finishing with 30 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and one steal to go with three turnovers.
The Cavs, however, were without two starters the Sixers will have to game-plan against should the teams meet in the postseason.
All-star power forward Kevin Love has been sidelined since Jan. 29 with a broken left hand. He’s expected to return at the end of this month. Shooting guard J.R. Smith served a one-game suspension Thursday night for conduct detrimental to the team. ESPN is reporting he threw a bowl of soup at Cleveland assistant coach Damon Jones.
Maybe Brown thought that Thursday’s performance would not have been good enough to beat a complete Cavs squad. If so, he just might have been right.
Not playing complete games doomed the Sixers against the Washington Wizards (Sunday) and the Miami Heat (Tuesday) in the first two stops of their three-game road trip. Like the Sixers and Cavs, the Heat and Wizards would both make the playoffs if the regular season concluded Friday.
The Sixers headed into Friday’s home game against the Charlotte Hornets with the sixth-best record in the conference. The Wizards were fourth before Friday’s league games. Miami has the conference’s eighth-best record.
“When you’re making your travels, you’re playing a [fourth] seed, an eighth seed, and a third seed,” Brown said. “This was a great experience for this team.”
The Sixers did show some improvement Thursday night from their first two games of the trip. They were basically taken to the woodshed in a 109-94 loss to the Wizards at the Capital One Arena. Then the Sixers nearly overcame poor shooting, horrid perimeter defense, and turnovers in a 102-101 loss to the Heat at American Airlines Arena.
“Everyone would feel that we have more [to give],” Brown said. “That’s a respectable thing. That’s a competitive thing, knowing that we hope something special is not so far away.”