CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers didn’t have Kevin Love and the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t have Joel Embiid.
But Cleveland did have LeBron James, who combined with his bench to lead the Cavs to a hard-fought 105-98 victory Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
With Love out due to left hip soreness — the oft-injured Embiid was rested by Philadelphia on the front end of a back-to-back set — James posted his 58th career triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.
On a night where he failed to shoot .500 from the field (9-for-23) for the first time in 14 games and just the third time in 27 games this season, James scored or assisted on Cleveland’s final 22 points.
“That’s just a byproduct of who I am,” said James, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the second half. “I don’t need to score to be productive and help us win a game.”
James completely took over down the stretch, scoring four points and assisting on 10 others as the Cavs (19-8) outscored the Sixers (13-12) 14-2 over the final 4:43.
It helped Cleveland avoid falling to 1-4 on the second night of back-to-back games. It also helped prevent the team’s first two-game losing streak since Oct. 29-Nov. 1 after a franchise-record-tying 13-game winning streak ended Friday in Indiana.
“We needed that tonight and he did it,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of James, who started 3-for-11 from the field and committed six turnovers.
As vital as James was, he got a lot of help from his bench, which outscored Philadelphia’s 48-27. Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver all had 13 points for the Cavs.
“That’s the telltale of our season so far — our bench,” James said. “Our bench has been amazing.”
With Love out and Tristan Thompson still not fully healthy, Lue elected to start rookie Ante Zizic at center, but the Cavs fell behind 13-3 in his first 4:38 on the court and he didn’t play again.
Still, after a lengthy delay flying out of Indiana kept the Cavs from landing in Cleveland until 4 a.m. Saturday, they managed to pull out a win and avoid a two-game losing streak.
“It was very important,” Wade said. “We won 13 games in a row and we could have lost two in a row. We could have made an excuse, but no one wants to hear that in this league.”
Philadelphia, which got 19 points apiece from J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, who limped off the court late in the game with a lower back injury, led 96-91 following a dunk by Ben Simmons (14 points, six rebounds, 10 assists) with 4:43 to go.
James answered immediately with a three-point play, assisted Korver on a 3-pointer and dished to Wade for a layup, putting the Cavs up 99-96 with 3:05 remaining.
After two free throws by the Sixers’ Richaun Holmes (13 points), James passed to Wade for another layup after a wild scramble that saw Covington fall over a fan seated courtside. Cleveland’s Jae Crowder (12 points, five rebounds) dove on the floor to recover the ball and got it to James.
“I make winning plays,” said Crowder, who then hit a 3-pointer off a James pass to put the Cavs up 104-98 with 40.9 seconds left.
James concluded the scoring by splitting two free throws, capping his amazing run of scoring or assisting on Cleveland’s final 22 points.
“I just go out and play my game,” he said, though he later added, “That’s crazy,” when told of the 22-point stretch.
The Cavs looked lost early without Love, who is always heavily emphasized offensively at the start of games. Tired Cleveland made just one of its first five shots and committed four ugly turnovers — three were by James — while falling behind by 10 with 7:22 left in the first quarter.
Green replaced Zizic at that point and the Cavs eventually fell behind by 11, but they closed the period on a 16-6 run to trail just 24-23.
Behind great play from the bench, that spurt lengthened to 31-8 four minutes into the second quarter as Cleveland went up 38-26. Lue began going back to his starters at that point and the Cavs’ lead shrunk to one before they regrouped to go up 52-46 at halftime.
At that point, all Cleveland starters had negative plus-minus totals, while the Cavs were plus-17 with Korver, plus-15 with Green and plus-13 with Wade. For the game, Cleveland was plus-25 with Green, plus-18 with Korver and plus-15 with Wade.
- J.R. Smith (1,828) made two 3-pointers — one turned into a four-point play — to pass Kobe Bryant (1,827) for 12th in league history. He needs three more to pass Chauncey Billups (1,830) for 11th.
- The Cavs made 14 of 29 3-pointers, with Korver going 4-for-8 and Smith and Jose Calderon each going 2-for-3.
- Love’s injury is not serious and he’s expected to be back in the starting lineup Tuesday when Cleveland hosts Atlanta. Thompson also could return from a strained calf that night.