Here are my key takeaways and "best" and "worst" awards from the 76ers' 113-91 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers are a good team that's improving. However, they're far from being a championship-caliber squad. Just as the Golden State Warriors did in their two meetings with the Sixers, the Cavs showed there's a huge talent and experience gap for the Sixers to overcome.
The Cavaliers have one of the top benches, if not the best bench, in the league. Cleveland's backups graded out at a plus-105. Kyle Korver was a plus-25 in just 21 minutes, 20 seconds. Channing Frye was a plus-23 in 18:36.
Three-point shooting has been one of the Sixers' strengths. On Monday, it was one of their Achilles' heels. They made a season-low three in 28 attempts. Their shooting percentage of 10.7 on three-pointers was also a season low. Robert Covington was the worst Sixer. The small forward missed all nine of his three-point attempts and finished 1 for 11 overall from the field.
Ben Simmons has a ways to go before we can realistically start comparing him to Cavs standout LeBron James. James flat-out dominated Simmons, a close friend, when paired together. The Sixers point guard finished with a misleading 10 points and eight rebounds, a season-low two assists, and three turnovers. Two of his baskets came on back-to-back dunks in the fourth quarter when Jae Crowder, who had locked him down, was on the bench.
The Cavaliers showed how to neutralize Joel Embiid on the defensive end. Cleveland starts a small lineup with Kevin Love, a traditional power forward, at center. Love and the other post players played in the perimeter, pulling the shot-blocking Embiid out of the paint. That enabled James to attack the rim.
‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards
Best performance: Only a fool wouldn't give this to James. The four-time league MVP was in playoff mode. James finished with 30 points and game highs of 13 rebounds and six assists to record his 12th double-double of the season. Twenty-two of his points, seven of his rebounds and three of his assists came before intermission.
Worst performance: I couldn't avoid giving this to Covington even on a night when he learned a close friend had been fatally shot. He didn't attempt a field goal in the first quarter. Then he missed his first four attempts before hitting an 18-foot, pull-up jumper with 8 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter. That was his lone offensive highlight, as he missed his final six shots.
Best defensive performance: Crowder gets this. He was the major reason Simmons finally looked like the rookie that he is before suffering a right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter and sitting out the rest of the game. Crowder, who sat out the fourth, did a solid job of not allowing Simmons to find a rhythm.
Worst statistic: This goes to the Sixers' three-point shooting. Covington, Dario Saric (0-3) and Embiid (0-2) finished a combined 0 for 14. JJ Redick, one of the league's top three-point shooters, went 1 for 4.
Best statistic: This goes to the Cavaliers bench grading out at a plus-105.
Worst of the worst: When Joel Embiid's shot was blocked by Dwyane Wade. The 7-foot-2, 283-pounder attempted a put-back under the basket that was blocked. Embiid would have been better off trying to dunk on the 6-4, 220-pound Wade. But it's hard to criticize Embiid, who finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds.