CLEVELAND — Joel Embiid did plenty of damage on his own. The Cavaliers, though, felt the big man got some unwarranted help.
Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff was highly critical of the officiating after Embiid scored 44 points — and made 20 trips to the free-throw line — in Philadelphia’s 112-108 win over the Cavs on Sunday night.
“That game was taken from us,” Bickerstaff said. “We deserved to win it.”
Embiid added 17 rebounds, and James Harden had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in his second triple-double with Philadelphia as the 76ers locked up a playoff spot.
Embiid was questionable coming into the game with a sore ankle. But not only did the 7-footer play, he dominated down the stretch, scoring 12 points in a key sequence of the fourth quarter.
He also made 17 free throws, added five blocks, made three 3-pointers and had three assists in 38 minutes.
Bickerstaff wasn’t taking anything away from Embiid or Harden, but he was upset with what he thought was a major discrepancy in fouls. Cleveland was called for 28 to Philadelphia’s 19 in a physical game with playoff-level intensity.
“The one thing you can’t defend is the free throw line, and that’s absurd,” Bickerstaff said, referring to the Sixers’ 42 attempted foul shots (35 of which they made). “Our guys deserved way better than they got tonight.
“They’re great players and they understand how to play through the rules,” he said of Philly’s All-Stars. “They know how to manipulate the rules. This is no knock or disrespect to those guys. But the game has to be consistent on both ends of the floor. We were searching for that consistency and we never found it.”
Darius Garland scored 23 and Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens had 18 apiece for the Cavs, who played without injured 7-footers Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen but battled one of the East’s top teams to the finish.
Cleveland, which is trying to hang on to the No. 7 play-in spot, was within 107-106 when Bickerstaff felt Garland drew contact from Embiid while missing an off-balance layup with 15.2 seconds left.
“Darius was fouled,” Bickerstaff said. “He did his job and got to a spot and got fouled. No whistle.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: ESPN NBA