Saying "Kyrie Irving scored 24 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers extended their winning streak to 11 games," won't do tonight's Sixers-Cavs game justice. Brett Brown's bunch used a 14-2 run to close the third quarter and dramatically trim the 20-point deficit they faced earlier in the frame. The Sixers then battled tremendously hard in the fourth before Cleveland eventually pulled away for a 97-84 victory. By every definition of the phrase, the final score was not indicative of how competitive this game very much was.
Brown's fingerprints were all over this contest. The gritty, defense-first philosophy he's preached since day one in Philadelphia has helped the Sixers compete against some of the NBA's best teams over their last six games. Obviously, the players are responsible for on-court production, but the coaching staff's ability to prepare and motivate this team on a nightly basis as been nothing but phenomenal of late.
JaKarr Sampson had an athletic block to prevent an easy Cavs fastbreak in the first quarter. Robert Covington doubled down on Timofey Mosgov to reject the big Russian. K.J. McDaniels boxed out J.R. Smith so well following a Smith three-point attempt, Smith was called for a loose ball foul.
With 5:47 left in the third quarter, Covington poked Irving's handle, dove on the floor to scoop up the free ball, and as the Sixers raced down the court in transition, RoCo's hustle play led to a wide-open Sampson triple.
Covington had 7 steals on the night, one more swipe than field goals LeBron James converted. James shot just 6-17 from the field. Kevin Love was limited to just 1-7 shooting. Overall, the Sixers forced 18 Cleveland turnovers and limited the Cavs to 99.4 points/100 possessions, a sizable 7.5 points lower than Cleveland's offensive efficiency on the year entering tonight — a 102.1 offensive rating would rank 25th in the NBA this season. Cleveland boasted the sixth-most efficient offense in the league prior to the game.
Jerami Grant and Covington each scored 18 points apiece in the Sixers' resilient effort. The performance was a career-high for Grant, who continued his tremendous play of late. The second round pick dropped his 18 in just 26 minutes, draining 3-5 three-point attempts, grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing 2 assists in the process.
The Sixers stormed back all without Michael Carter-Williams. The reigning Rookie of the Year watched the final 19:31 of the game from the bench. Afterwards, Brett Brown informed the media MCW played through a right shin contusion and left ankle sprain, both of which he suffered in Atlanta on Saturday.
All of the above adds up to another impressive, promising performance and an effort to build upon for Brown's club. Michael Levin put it best after the game concluded:
Talk about tanking, talk about MCW's struggles or Nerlens' offense or Joel's injury. But Brett Brown will be here a long time. So I'm good.— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) February 3, 2015