It felt like the 76ers were due for a breather.
Entertaining the 17-win Cleveland Cavaliers seemed like a surefire way to welcome back Boban Marjanovic from injury and cope with Jimmy Butler missing the game for what the team said was rest. Even Cleveland did its part to keep the Sixers’ spirits high, dressing only nine players.
In the end, the Sixers did get the 106-99 win Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center thanks to Joel Embiid’s late heroics. But it wasn’t pretty. At times, the Sixers were unwatchable on both ends of the court.
“We’ve lost a couple of games this year like this game,” JJ Redick said. "In that sense, it’s wasn’t frustrating, because you got a win.
“But, you know, the mood in the locker room was definitely one where we feel like we could play better.”
Ben Simmons just missed a triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists.
James Ennis III had his best game as a Sixer while starting in place of Jimmy Butler. He had 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, missing his last shot.
Embiid finished with 17 points to go with game highs of 19 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 6 turnovers in his second game back from tendinitis in his left knee.
“I was trash,” the two-time All-Star center said.
Embiid (6-for-16), Tobias Harris (5-for-12), and Redick (6-for-15) shot a combined 17-for-43 (39.5 percent) from the field. Redick was fine behind the arc, making 4 of 7 three-pointers, but he struggled on other attempts while finishing with 17 points. Harris had 11 points and 9 rebounds.
The Sixers also committed 22 turnovers, the most they’ve committed in a win this season. They also blew a commanding 16-point first-quarter lead en route to escaping with the seven-point victory.
Embiid scored his team’s final six points and had three clutch rebounds and block in the final 51.1 seconds.
Embiid’s put-back dunk with 51.1 seconds left gave the Sixers a 102-99 lead. He then blocked Ante Zizic’s layup attempt with 31 seconds left. Two seconds after grabbing the rebound, Embiid was fouled by Cedi Osman. He sank the ensuing two free throws to make it a 104-99 game. He added two more foul shots tp provide the final margin.
With the win, the Sixers improved to 43-25 with 15 games remaining in the regular season. They’re 2-1 in the season series against the Cavaliers (17-51). Cleveland was coming off Monday’s impressive 25-point victory over the Toronto Raptors.
The undermanned Cavs were without five-time All-Star Kevin Love one night after he finished with 16 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. Love sat out because he’s not yet playing back-to-back games while recovering from a toe injury.
Reserve post player Marquese Chriss was suspended without pay Tuesday by the NBA for fighting Raptors forward Serge Ibaka with 0.01 left in the third quarter of Monday’s game. Both players were ejected. Ibaka was suspended for three games
“Well, it’s a very unfortunate ... situation,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said of the suspension. “And not having Kevin, this is the wrong team to come in here and play against a big 76er team. You do need big bodies.”
Cleveland was also without Matthew Dellavedova (concussion), Tristan Thompson (left foot soreness), John Henson (left wrist surgery), Larry Nance Jr. (rib contusion), and JR Smith (not with team).
The Sixers were happy to welcome back backup center Marjanovic (11 points), who missed the previous six games with a right knee bone bruise and mild sprain.
The Sixers also recalled Zhaire Smith from their NBA G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats. The rookie did not play in the first NBA game he dressed.
He was recalled around 10 a.m. Tuesday while getting ready to board a flight to Milwaukee with his Blue Coats teammates for Tuesday night’s G-League game against the Wisconsin Herd.
“I’m getting a little bit of a taste of the NBA and I know what to expect for next summer,” Smith said before the game. “I’ll just know what to expect and what to work on and look forward to next year. I’m focused on this year, soaking everything in.”
Smith was expected to return in December after being sidelined with an acute Jones fracture in his left foot. However, he remained out due to the negative effects from an allergic reaction to something he ate back in September.
His recall was more about getting experience than helping the team’s playoff-seeding push.
“He’s still is going to end or conclude the G-League season,” Brown said. “He will be with them and see that season through. Anything we can get from Zhaire will be an additional bonus. It’s not anything I’m counting on. If it happens, it happens. I’m not expecting it at all.
“It’s not like this sneaky drive to shove him into a playoff situation … Could it happen? Who knows?”
Smith made his G-League debut on March 1 in a road game against the Maine Red Claws. He is averaging 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in four G-League games.
On Tuesday, the Sixers set a floor record for a half with no foul shots made or attempted in the first two quarters. They also committed 14 turnovers in the opening half.
Rookie point guard Collin Sexton paced the Cavs with 26 points. Cedi Osman added 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.