PHILADELPHIA (AP) – The 76ers put up a fight. LeBron James put on a show.
James raised the roof, then lifted the Cleveland Cavaliers to their seventh straight win, 95-85 over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.
He tied a season high with 37 points and pushed both hands up in the air after several powerful dunks, drawing a rise out of the nearly 20,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center. He had nine assists and seven rebounds in Cleveland’s 13th win in the last 15 games.
When the Cavs had to put the game away, they turned to James.
“They look at me as the leader of this team and I’ve got to be that way all year round,” James said. “They needed me a lot tonight and I was able to come through.”
James did just about everything right – except catch two balls at once.
Even when James seems fallible he still steals the spotlight. An unsuspecting James was beaned in the face by an errant basketball from Anderson Varejao during pregame warmups. The clip was a hit on social media.
During the game, James even tossed the ball backward over his head after the whistle and watched it plop through the net.
He must have wished the bucket counted because the Cavaliers couldn’t put away the NBA-worst 76ers until the fourth quarter.
The Sixers pulled as close as two points with 8 minutes left before James thwarted the upset bid.
Jahlil Okafor scored 21 points for the Sixers and Ish Smith had 18 points and 10 assists.
“I think it helps any time you can play against a team that is championship material,” coach Brett Brown said. “You weigh yourself up against the best and we came out of it quite well.”
With only four wins, the 76ers were 27th in the league in attendance. But with basketball’s reigning king in the house, the Sixers boasted a near-sellout crowd of 19,226.
“I love these fans here,” James said. “They love their sports.”
They nearly got their wish of watching a vintage James performance coupled with a 76ers win.
James would not let that happen.
The Sixers inched to 81-79 when James took control. He buried a 22-footer from the wing, grabbed a defensive rebound and made one of two free throws. James tossed in an awkward, falling layup – complete with a stare-down of Hollis Thompson – then hit a 3-pointer.
Just like that, the Cavs led by 10.
“He’s been doing that for a long time,” coach David Blatt said. “It’s nothing new.”
In the city where Darryl Dawkins shattered countless backboards, James, 15 of 22 from the floor, nearly pulled down the rim with a dunk in the first quarter. He raised the roof in celebration. He raised it a few more times during the game, including one last powerful dunk in the fourth that made it 93-79.
“When he’s making shots like that, what are you going to do?” Smith said. “You just have to shake his hand.”
James even did a celebratory handshake with J.R. Smith on their way to the bench for a timeout. Smith scored 14 points.
James had plenty of help. Kevin Love had 15 points and 15 rebounds and had a few spot-on outlet passes to James for some of his seven assists.
Smith and James hit seven of Cleveland’s nine 3-pointers.
Cavaliers: Cleveland swept all four games in the season series. … The Cavaliers had scored at least 120 points in three straight games. … James already had two double-doubles this season against Philly.
Sixers: Brown called a timeout just 1 minute into both halves. … Brown said forward Nerlens Noel’s progress has been hampered by switching positions from center to power forward to make room for Okafor. “I feel like Nerlens Noel has made the most sacrifices out of anybody,” he said. Brown said Okafor can’t play at forward because, “I don’t think Jahlil can guard chase guys.” Noel scored 12 points.
Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, the Philadelphia Eagles’ career leading rusher, was at the game and received a vocal mix of cheers and boos when he was introduced. Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2014 AL MVP, also was at the game. Rapper Meek Mill also sat courtside.
James watched the Pacers-Rockets game on an iPad in the locker room. He might have changed the channel later in the night – “Trainwreck” was up for a Golden Globe award for best motion picture-comedy or musical. He costarred in the movie.
Cleveland plays Tuesday at Dallas.
The 76ers host Chicago on Thursday.