PHILADELPHIA — LeBron James pulled Ben Simmons in for a hug, and smiled and laughed in a brief chat with Joel Embiid.
Allen Iverson watched the scene with a big grin and high-fived a few fans.
The 76ers of the past and present sure loved LeBron — except when he nearly brought the Cavs back from a 30-point deficit.
Simmons and James had triple-doubles and the 76ers held off the hard-charging Cavs 132-130 for their 13th straight win in their biggest game in six years.
With a buzz in the city over the Sixers that hasn’t been felt in years, they scored 78 points and romped to a 30-point lead in the first half.
“You get down 30 in the postseason, that can lose you a series,” James said.
It cost the Cavs in Philly.
Simmons had 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists and James, one of his mentors, had 44 points (17-of-29 shooting), 11 assists and 11 rebounds, bringing the Cavaliers to the brink of an epic comeback.
“He’s a student of the game. He wants to be great,” James said of Simmons.
The Sixers (49-30) took third place in the Eastern Conference from the Cavaliers (49-31) with the win.
Perhaps the Cavs were fatigued from rallying from 17-points down to win Thursday against Washington. Whatever the reason, they were in a funk from the start — James even missed a dunk.
James had a chance to tie the game when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.9 seconds left. He made the first, missed the second and his intentional miss on the third failed to go in on a Cavs tip at the horn.
He scored 21 points in the third and hit successive 3-pointers in the fourth that helped pull Cleveland to 111-109. James had a monster slam that kept it a three-point game only for JJ Redick to come down and bury a 3-pointer.
James started yapping at the refs, the crowd howled as he complained and the arena felt like a Game 7.
Then it got earsplitting.
Simmons kicked out to Redick for a three from the corner that brought Iverson out of his seat and pumping his fist in celebration.
The seeding takes on added importance with both teams’ chances at making a long postseason run increasing once Boston lost Kyrie Irving for the season.
“They completely understand that it’s now April and we’re going to blink and be playing in the playoffs,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “You see them trending in a very competitive winning way.”
The Sixers, who already clinched their first playoff berth since 2012, won for the fifth straight game without Embiid. The All-Star center was at the game for the first time since he suffered a concussion and needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. There is no timetable for Embiid’s return.
The Cavs were without their top two point guards — George Hill and Jose Calderon — and starting forward Rodney Hood didn’t play in the second half due to a sore Achilles tendon.
“This was big, beating a team like that without an All-Star,” Simmons said. “I think everyone is coming together as a team. We are playing well.”
James can opt out of his contract this summer — he has a $35.6 option — with Cleveland and become a free agent. With a glut of young talent and spacious room under the salary cap, Philadelphia has been frequently mentioned as a landing spot for James. Three billboards, paid for by a Pennsylvania company, popped up recently in Ohio urging James to sign with the 76ers this summer.
Sixers’ Twitter even seemed divided on how to handle James — boo him or woo him with kindness?
It’s Philly. Take a guess which reaction won.
James was booed each time he touched the ball and signs were spotted in the stands that read “Keep Cryin’ in Cleveland” and “We Don’t Want You.”
He brought the sellout crowd to their feet on his missed dunk.
The Sixers had them standing and roaring on almost every possession.
James certainly noticed the enthusiasm.
“You add in Villanova, you add in the Eagles, obviously that helps as well,” James said. “It’s always been kind of rowdy coming here.”
76ers 132, Cavaliers 130
CLEVELAND (130): James 17-29 6-11 44, Green 10-12 8-8 33, Love 5-10 4-5 17, Osman 2-11 2-4 7, Hood 1-3 2-2 4, Nance Jr. 1-4 0-0 2, Thompson 2-2 0-1 4, Smith 3-6 0-0 8, Clarkson 2-7 2-2 6, Korver 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 44-86 24-33 130.
PHILADELPHIA (132): Covington 4-8 1-1 11, Saric 1-9 0-0 3, Johnson 3-8 1-1 7, Simmons 12-17 3-5 27, Redick 9-19 6-7 28, Holmes 3-4 0-0 6, Ilyasova 6-12 4-4 17, McConnell 0-1 0-0 0, Fultz 5-8 0-0 10, Belinelli 7-15 3-3 23. Totals 50-101 18-21 132.
Cleveland 28 27 43 32 — 130
Philadelphia 41 37 27 27 — 132
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 16-34 (Green 5-6, James 4-8, Love 3-6, Smith 2-4, Korver 1-2, Osman 1-8), Philadelphia 14-39 (Belinelli 6-12, Redick 4-11, Covington 2-6, Ilyasova 1-4, Saric 1-6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Cleveland 40 (James 11), Philadelphia 45 (Simmons 15). Assists—Cleveland 25 (James 11), Philadelphia 35 (Simmons 13). Total Fouls—Cleveland 20, Philadelphia 23. A—20,769 (21,600).