CLEVELAND – Here are my key takeaways and “best” and “worst” awards from the 76ers’ 108-97 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at the Quicken Loans Arena.
— The new-look Sixers played well. The spacing appeared to be better and Ersan Ilyasova‘s presence elevated the play of his teammates. The newly re-signed power forward had a modest first game back, scoring six points to go with two rebounds and two assists. However, the Sixers’ second unit just looked more complete and postseason-ready with him out there.
— Ben Simmons has shown drastic improvement since the Sixers first played Cleveland on Nov. 27. Back then, LeBron James did whatever he wanted to the rookie and Jae Crowder locked him down. On this night, the point guard didn’t shut James down. No one did as he finished with a game-high 30 points. But Simmons did a better job of defending him. He also had 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting, with nine rebounds and eight assists.
— Even though the Cavs were without two regular starters, this was a statement game by the Sixers. They led the entire way and got a confidence boost by snapping an 11-game losing streak to Cleveland.
— Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson didn’t do much for the Cavs. The two combined for 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting. The two Cleveland role players could have made a difference, but the Sixers kept them in check.
— Amir Johnson displayed the three-point touch he has shown in post-practice shooting drills. The Sixers backup center buried a wide-open three in the first quarter. Because Johnson has transitioned into a pick-setting role player, folks forget he was known for making three-pointers when he came into the league.
‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards
— Best performance: I had to give this to Redick for having one of his best games as a Sixer. He scored nine of his team’s 10 points during one stretch to give it an 18-11 lead. Then he kept coming up with timely baskets to stop Cavs comeback attempts.
— Worst performance: This goes to Rodney Hood. The Cavaliers shooting guard started in place of suspended J.R. Smith and wasn’t a factor at all. He missed nine of 14 shots en route to finishing with 11 points. Hood also graded out at a game-worst minus-20.
— Best defensive performance: Johnson gets this one for providing a defensive presence in the paint. He recorded a team-high two blocks.
— Worst statistic: This goes to the Sixers’ shooting 66.7 percent (18 for 27) from the foul line.
— Best statistic: Joel Embiid’s six offensive rebounds. The Sixers center finished with 14 total rebounds.
— Worst of the worst: This goes to the altercation between Jordan Clarkson and Dario Saric with 12.2 seconds left. Clarkson was upset that Saric had dunked in the closing seconds with his Sixers holding a commanding lead. Doing so is violating an unwritten rule in the NBA. But Saric is from Croatia and was unaware that he was disrespecting the Cavs. Throwing a ball at the back of Saric was a little bit much. Clarkson was ejected after the incident.