Under normal circumstances, it might not matter much who gets the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Under current circumstances, however, the No. 3 vs. the N. 4 is the difference between facing a Kyrie Irving-free Celtics team in the second round of the playoffs and meeting truly dangerous Raptors squad. That’s a pretty big deal.
So when Ben Simmons delivered one of the best games of his young career to beat the Cavaliers 132-130 and give his 76ers a half-game lead in the race for the No. 3 seed, it wasn’t merely an uplifting win for his team. It was the biggest victory of the season.
What began as a laugher Friday night quickly became a tight contest between the best player in the world and the man who is most often compared to him. LeBron James was otherworldly, leading the Cavs back from a 23-point halftime deficit and finishing with 44 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, but it was Simmons whose 27-15-13 led his team to a victory.
We’ll get to LeBron in a second, but first we’ve got to give a whole lot of credit to the young Aussie. Simmons put on a show Friday night, dazzling with his vision…
— NBA (@NBA) April 6, 2018
— NBA (@NBA) April 7, 2018
And his power…
— NBA (@NBA) April 3, 2018
Simmons has had a truly remarkable rookie season (whether or not he edges out Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year) with numerous awesome performances, but Friday might have been the best he has been, especially considering the stakes. At only 21 years old, that dude is special.
LeBron, meanwhile, didn’t lead his team to a win Friday night, but his outing was pretty incredible in its own right. The King lifted his team like only he can, dominating the second half as the Cavs’ rallied back into the game before falling just short. Late in the fourth quarter of a contest of which he would wind up playing 40 minutes, in the final stretch of his 15th season in the league, he was still making plays like this.
— NBA (@NBA) April 7, 2018
Somehow LeBron still doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s doing at this stage of his career. It’s unbelievable.
Anyway, after Philadelphia’s win Friday night, the Sixers are 49-30, while the Cavs are 49-31, meaning Philly controls its own destiny. Cleveland, however, owns the tiebreaker between the two teams and faces the Knicks in its final two games, so the Sixers face great pressure to win out against the tanking Hawks and Mavericks and the contending Bucks. Simmons put his squad in strong position Friday night, but now he and his teammates have to close the deal.
As for the Cavs, they’d surely prefer to get the No. 3 seed, but if LeBron plays like he did Friday and Cleveland’s defense plays with just a bit more intensity, any postseason opponent would have reason for fear.