Dribbles: Balance, Big Shots Lift Cavs to Oh-So-Needed Victory Over Sixers

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ thriller of a 117-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. …Georges Niang

1. Boy, the Cavs needed that one. And they got it by the hair of their chinny chin chins.

2. But blowout, close win, whatever. The Cavs just had to have a reason to keep believing as they depart for a daunting trip out West.

3. By the way, if you’re wondering why the Cavs (45-29) are about to embark on such a grueling trip so late in the season, I have two words for you, one hyphenated: In-Season Tournament. Remember that? Well, it screwed up the entire schedule.

4. Anyway, back to the here and now. The Sixers played out of their minds, knocking down some crazy shots. It would have been easy for the Cavs to think it just wasn’t going to be their night. That wasn’t the case. They kept fighting and basically won via sheer will.

5. On the downside, the Cavs gave up 16 offensive rebounds for 24 second-chance points. That can’t happen. They said they know that. If they’d done a better job on the defensive glass, this wouldn’t have down to almost the last shot.

6. But give the Cavs credit. They made up for it in other areas. It sure helped having Donovan Mitchell back — even if he did have to sport a protective mask. 

7. Mitchell didn’t produce eye-popping numbers (12 points, eight assists, 4-of-13 shooting), but man, did the ball move better than it ever did during his absence. He’ll get the rest of his game back soon enough. 

8. Evan Mobley was massive in the second half, and it was his late 3-pointer from the baseline that gave the Cavs the lead, and the win. “Felt good when it left my hands,” he told Bally Sports. “Sure enough it went in.”

9. Mobley finished with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, along with 11 rebounds and a couple of big blocks. He took two threes — one in each half — and buried them both. Better yet, he forced nothing.

10. Meanwhile, Georges Niang was also fantastic with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting. That included a 5-of-8 night on threes. He went from emergency starter back to a reserve role, and he’s been very good all the while.

11. Overall, it was a balanced effort offensively. Max Strus finished with 15 points in his second game back. Darius Garland scored 14 and passed for a game-high 12 assists. Jarrett Allen went for 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sam Merrill frustrated the Sixers, especially in the first half, finishing with 13 points on 4-of-8 from three. Mitchell hit both free throws to seal the deal.

12. The Cavs gave themselves a little space in the Eastern Conference race, as Orlando lost to the Clippers. So the Cavs now lead the Magic by 2.5 games.

13. Oh, and since New York lost to San Antonio in overtime, the Cavs are back in third in the East, a half-game ahead of the Knicks. What a difference 48 minutes can make.

14. Niang admitted to Bally Sports that it’s human nature to pay attention to what other teams are doing — especially when the race is so tight. That said, he added it’s important to focus on your own path. “When you start messing around with other lanes, you can get hit by a Mack truck,” he said, as only the fun-loving Niang could put it.

15. We know that Niang cares because he groaned when told that San Antonio was blowing a lead vs. the Knicks.

16. Kyle Lowry, 38, had one of those throwback nights for the Sixers (39-35), with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. A couple of those makes likely had Cavs fans shaking their heads and asking, Are you serious right now? Lowry seems to save his best games not only for the Cavs, but for the Cavs in Cleveland.

17. Anyway, the real fun is about to begin, as the Cavs get to face the defending champion Nuggets in Denver on Sunday afternoon. Then it’s a visit to the Utah Jazz. Then the Phoenix Suns. Then both Los Angeles teams next weekend. Thanks for nothing, evil NBA schedule-maker.

18. No matter, the Cavs just have to keep things flowing on offense as they finally have all five starters back. They need to be better defensively than they were Friday, or most of this week for that matter. That’s OK. They’re about to get a chance to prove what they can do. Sometimes, the road can pull a good team together.

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