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Joel Embiid had 44 points and 17 rebounds, James Harden recorded his second triple-double with Philadelphia and the 76ers locked up a playoff spot with a 112-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
Embiid was questionable coming into the game with a sore ankle. But not only did the 7-footer play, Embiid dominated down the stretch, scoring 12 points in a key sequence of the fourth quarter.
He also made 17 of 20 free throws, added five blocks and three assists in 38 minutes of another MVP resume builder. Embiid also made three 3-pointers.
Harden had an off-shooting night (4 of 13), but finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
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.
Cleveland, which is trying to hang onto the No. 7 play-in spot, was still within 109-106 after Harden made two free throws with 11.2 seconds left.
But Kevin Love made a careless inbounds pass that was stolen by Matisse Thybulle, who then made a pass from a sitting position to a streaking Tobais Harris for a game-sealing dunk with 7.2 seconds left.
Nothing came easy on offense for the Sixers, who made 21 3-pointers and scored a season-high 144 points in a win over Charlotte on Saturday. But Embiid bailed his teammates out with the kind of performance that has come to be expected from the All-Star.
76ers: Attempted 42 free throws. … F Paul Millsap, a 15-year veteran, has only played eight minutes in the last five games. Millsap has only appeared in four games since DeAndre Jordan was signed on March 3. … Philadelphia plays three of its final four regular-season games on the road. … Coach Doc Rivers had high praise for Cavs guard Rajon Rondo, who played for him in Boston. “The brightest player I’ve ever been around,” Rivers said. “He kept us (coaches) on our toes.”
Cavaliers: Rondo (ankle) played for the first time since March 12. … Allen missed his 15th straight game and Mobley sat his fourth in a row. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said both are improving, but did not say when — or if — either will be back before the regular season ends in a week. … Garland is one of three players among the NBA’s top 10 in both assists and minutes. Harden and Dallas’ Luka Doncic are the others. … Love has played in a team-high 71 games, 66 off the bench.
Rivers has been campaigning for Embiid to win MVP honors this season among a group of worthy candidates. For the Sixers coach, Embiid’s passing, defense and leadership are overlooked parts of his well-rounded game.
“I know he’s my guy, obviously,” Rivers said. “He has just has done so many things.”
Rivers credits Embiid for pulling the Sixers through “the Ben Simmons saga.”
“He was our second-best player at the time and was out, and at the All-Star break when we made the trade, we were a game out of first place in the East,” Rivers said. “There’s a lot to be said about that.”
76ers: Play at Indiana on Tuesday.
Cavaliers: Visit Orlando on Tuesday.