Cavs Sport Look of a Winner, But Last Shot Doesn't Drop in Loss to 76ers
It was just about everything you wanted in a potential game-winning shot.
Feet set behind the 3-point arc, defenders out of position, a good look at the basket with no need to rush.
But Kevin Love's last gasp missed by about an inch, bouncing off the back of the rim and into a mad scramble for the rebound. Time then ran out.
Final score: Philadelphia 98, Cavaliers 97 on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
"We got a look," Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson told the media of the final fateful moments. "It was a great shot by Kevin. I thought it was going in."
In other words, the Cavs came this close to sweeping their three-game East Coast swing. But some might argue this loss was more impressive than the two wins (over Washington and New York), in which they led wire-to-wire.
This time, the Cavs trailed much of the night against a true Eastern Conference contender. They were on the road and lining up across from 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who returned from a two-game absence and shoulder injury. Every time the Cavs got close, you just felt as if they would never get closer. The Sixers just have too much talent to let that happen.
Everyone probably would have accepted it if the Cavs (4-6) got blown out here. Their determined play lately can only be expected to carry them so far.
But there they were, with the ball, and an actual chance to win. The shot just didn't drop.
"I like the way our guys competed," coach John Beilein said. "I'm proud of them."
For the Cavs, this game simply turned out to be a few minutes too long. Somehow, someway, they were up 95-90 with just 5:00 to go. They scored but once more.
The final basket came with :13 seconds left, a dunk by Embiid. Until that point, the Sixers (7-3) looked a little dazed. This likely wasn't the battle they had expected. It almost certainly wasn't the one they wanted.
That's the thing about these Cavs, though. They don't seem to know or care when everyone else hopes they will just quietly fade away.
Was it a thing of basketball beauty? Hardly. Was it doing everything necessary to try to get the win? It sure looked like it.
And all of that is just fine with Beilein.
"We're not going to be able to be pretty and not gritty," he said. "We have to be a team that's united and really tough-minded."
Love and Clarkson led the way with 20 points apiece, Love coming to life in the second half and helping the Cavs overcome a 54-48 deficit. Despite playing most of the night at the 76ers' slow-it-down-and-give-to-Embiid pace, the Cavs kept chipping away.
Tristan Thompson (17 points, 12 rebounds) was largely responsible for things being close in the first half, even burying two 3-pointers in the same game for the first time.
Thompson's third try wasn't nearly as successful. It was a barely-over-halfcourt heave that came when he mistankenly thought the shot clock was expiring (there were actually still about four seconds left). At that point, the Cavs led 97-92.
But that Shaqtin A Fool play aside, Thompson continuously battled the larger Embiid and displayed every bit of the toughness Beilein talked about.
"That man is just playing with so much energy," Beilein said. "I've coached a lot of guys; I love coaching that guy."
Collin Sexton added 18 gutsy points for the Cavs. Embiid led the 76ers by erupting for game-highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds.
"We fought hard and we had 'em," Sexton said, before addressing the final three or four minutes. "We got stagnant. We just have to go back to our money plays and make sure we get good shots."
Finally, we can safely say Love wasn't the only person to miss a 3-pointer. The Cavs finished 5-of-21 on threes, the 76ers a dismal 8-of-38.
But those are just numbers and they don't truly measure how well the Cavs performed on this trip. They wanted to go undefeated and only missed it by about an inch.
"I would've liked to go back home 3-0, but we will take it," Beilein said. "I did see a growing unity with our guys. We're learning what it takes to win from start to finish."