3 Observations as Embiid Dominates, Drops 44 Points in Playoff-Clinching Win Over Cavaliers

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers, led by a dominant all-around performance from Joel Embiid, clinched a playoff spot with a 112-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Sunday night.

Embiid was a menace on both ends of the court. He scored 44 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, dished out three assists and recorded a steal and five blocks. James Harden added in a triple-double, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Darius Garland led the Cavs with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

The Sixers had one of their better nights rebounding the basketball. They out-rebounded Cleveland 50-41 while grabbing 12 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 second-chance points. They also possessed a huge disparity in free-throw attempts, 42-31.

The Sixers swept the season series with Cleveland and very well could potentially face this team again in the playoffs. Here are three observations from the win:

Embiid makes a statement

This game against the Cavaliers was a prime night for Embiid to carry the Sixers' offense. The Cavs were without both their starting big men, Jarrett Allen (left third finger fracture) and Evan Mobley (left ankle sprain). Moses Brown played well the past three games in Allen's absence, but the 22-year-old was no match for Embiid.

Embiid, like the rest of the Sixers' offense, got off a to a rough start. He could not find his touch from anywhere on the floor, making just one of his first six shots of the game. However, he made his presence felt defensively throughout the night. He impacted the game heavily around the paint, swatting down multiple shots and doing a good job defending Garland or any other Cavs player who managed to get into the paint.

The second half presented an entirely different story offensively for Embiid. He showed off every skill in his arsenal, successfully spreading the ball around when needed in addition to scoring from wherever he wanted to on the floor. He knocked down a pair of threes at the end of the shot clock, a shot it feels like he rarely misses anymore.

He dominated in the painted area, continuing to execute the pick-and-roll with Harden while at times just choosing to be aggressive and attack his man one-on-one. Embiid masterfully drew fouls whenever he wanted, getting to the free-throw line 20 times. He finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the second half alone.

Embiid might have dragged the Sixers' offense for much of the night, but Harden did come up big late in the game. He got the mismatch he wanted and drove by Lauri Markkanen for a layup to open up the lead to 107-104 with 1:03 to play. The Sixers need more of those kinds of plays from Harden, who has struggled as a scorer over the last couple weeks.

The team, led by Embiid, locked down defensively at the end of the game. Embiid did a good job switching and defending Garland on a drive to the basket with 1:26 remaining. Matisse Thybulle made the play that sealed the game, stealing the ball off an inbounds pass and getting it to Tobias Harris for a dunk to open the lead to 111-106 with 7.2 seconds remaining.

With a lot of the talk surrounding the MVP race beginning to center away from Embiid, he made a statement against the Cavaliers for why the MVP race very much is not over.

Improved pace, ball movement sparks offense in third quarter

The Sixers' offense in the first half was sloppy, slow and clunky. They came out of halftime looking like a completely different offense. The ball movement was much crisper, and the team went back to a what has become a fundamental staple of their offense since Harden arrived in Philadelphia.

The Chicago action involves a player off the ball receiving a screen to get to the ball handler before then doing a dribble handoff. The play above is a perfect example of this offensive action, and it is one of the things that has become the bread and butter of the Sixers' offense over the last few weeks.

The pace picked up a lot early in the second half as Tyrese Maxey came back into the game after getting into foul trouble in the first half. Maxey plays with a ton of energy and excels playing at a quicker pace. At one point early in the third quarter, he scored or assisted on nine consecutive points for the Sixers.

Things really opened up for the team's offense throughout the third quarter. Embiid, who had dominated as a scorer throughout the night, made a terrific volleyball tap pass to Harden for a three.

The Sixers, after scoring 49 points in the first half, put up 32 points in the third quarter behind a rejuvenated offense centered around Embiid's all-around performance.

Sloppy offense in the first half

With the Sixers and Cavaliers both playing on the second night of a back-to-back, offense was predictably hard to come by in the first couple minutes of the game. The two teams combined to shoot 3-of-15 from the field and 0-of-5 from three-point range in the first 5:09 of action.

However, the Cavs offense started clicking, scoring 32 points in the second quarter. The Sixers, led by Embiid, did a good job defending around the paint. Their perimeter defense, on the other hand, was brutal for much of the night. The Cavs shot 45.5 percent from three-point range overall, led by Markkanen's 4-of-7 shooting from deep.

The Sixers' offense started off slow, turning the ball over six times in the first quarter and not being able to get anything going. Maxey got into foul trouble early, picking up his third foul on a questionable offensive foul with 3:29 remaining in the first quarter. He was on the bench for the remainder of the first half.

Head coach Doc Rivers turned to a combination of Shake Milton, Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz to replace Maxey's minutes in the remainder of the first half. Milton had a quiet night, knocking down a three and grabbing a rebound in 15 minutes. Green was a non-factor offensively (three points, 1-of-2 shooting from the field), but impacted the game on the glass and defensively, recording five rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes. Korkmaz disappointed, failing to score a point and finishing as a minus-5 in seven minutes off the bench.

The Sixers already were struggling to get anything going in the first half, but when Embiid went off the floor their issues were exacerbated. DeAndre Jordan was a minus-11 in six minutes in the first half. He no longer possesses high-end athleticism and is a major defensive liability. Relying on Jordan to play some solid minutes is an extremely risky bet. Hopefully the Sixers' weakness at backup center will not come back to cost them in the playoffs.

The Sixers' ability to get to the free-throw line was what kept them in the game throughout the first half. The team went into halftime down six points despite a huge disparity in shooting percentages. The Cavs outshot the Sixers in the first half 51.3 percent to 31.6 percent, although the Sixers dominated the free-throw battle by going 19-of-23 compared to 6-of-11 for the Cavs.

The Sixers next take on the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

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