LeBron James had mixed emotions after the Cleveland Cavaliers' 132-130 loss to the 76ers on Friday in a game that had a definite playoff atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center.
Not only did the Sixers win their 13th consecutive game, but at 49-30 they moved ahead of the Cavs for the third spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
On the one hand, James was happy that his team showed grit, coming back from a 30-point deficit and were a missed Larry Nance Jr. tip at the buzzer from sending the game into overtime.
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What he wasn't thrilled about was getting down so far in the first place.
James has been to the NBA Finals seven straight years and he knows that having to try to overcome 30-point deficits does not bode well for playing in June.
"You don't want to be in that situation down 30 in the postseason, that can lose a series," James said. "You don't want to hang your hat on saying, 'We can come back from deficits like that.' You want to play well."
James said packing it in when down 30 wasn't an option, even though the Cavs were playing the second of back-to-back games.
"We dug ourselves in the hole, we are a prideful team, and the only way to get back in the game is to get scrappy," he said. "Play a little more physical, make some shots."
It was the second furious comeback in two nights for Cleveland. On Thursday, the Cavs overcame a 17-point deficit with just 7 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in a 119-115 victory over the visiting Washington Wizards.
"We know what we are capable of. We came back last night and came back today," James said. "It is all about defense, and when we defend we can do some real good things offensively."
James did his share on Friday with 44 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. He hit just one of his first seven shots in the first quarter, but then made 16 of his final 22.
Not all went well, however. James also had eight turnovers and shot 6 for 11 from the foul line. Down three with 1.9 seconds left, he was awarded three free throws. James made the first, missed the second, and purposely missed and watched in frustration as Nance's tip missed.
James said the Sixers jumped on Cleveland early in running to that 30-point lead, which was cut to 23 by halftime.
"It was our turnovers and their pace," he said. "We turned the ball over and they made us pay."
He credited the Sixers, who were coming off Wednesday's 115-108 win at Detroit, for their early-game strategy.
"They knew we were coming on a back-to-back and I am sure their emphasis was to get up and down and [test] our legs, and it took us quite a bit of time to get in the game."
Cavs coach Tyrronn Lue agreed with his superstar.
"Coming on a back-to-back, we just weren't ready for the speed, the way they played," Lue said. "The speed of the game, the pace they play at, they really took advantage of that early."
James was obviously impressed with Ben Simmons who had 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists and shot 12 of 17 from the field. He and Simmons share the same agent [Rich Paul] and have developed a friendship.
"I think the best teacher in life is experience and every game he is experiencing more and learning the game," James said. "…He is a student of the game and wants to be great and is definitely showcasing now."
Lue thought Simmons was the difference.