Ben Simmons wins epic LeBron James triple double duel
THE tantalising clash between Aussie Ben Simmons and LeBron James lived up to every bit of hype, each recording triple doubles in an NBA epic.
In one of the biggest games in recent Philadelphia history, the Sixers almost squandered a 30-point lead, surviving a huge comeback from the Cleveland Cavaliers to squeak out a two-point victory, 132-130, a 13th win on the bounce.
Simmons poured in 27 points to go with 15 rebounds and 13 assists to record his 12th triple double of the season - fourth before the end of the third quarter - but the Sixers needed every bit of it as James poured in 44 points to go with 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
The 21-year-old Melbourne-born Rookie of the Year favourite said he was chasing James' mantle as the best player in the world.
"I've got so much respect for him ... I'm playing the best player to have played the game so that's enough motivation right there and that's where I want to be one day," Simmons said on the ESPN broadcast after the game.
"We just played our game, didn't let the hype bother us and we stuck together."
In front of Philly legend Allen Iverson, Cleveland was pitiful in the first half, handing the ball over to the Sixers time and time again as Simmons dominated in the open floor with a series of highlight reel plays.
The Sixers 78-point effort was the most they had scored in half since 1992, but it was a tale of two halves as James and the Cavs went about erasing the 23-point halftime margin, dropping 43 points in a devastating third quarter that gave them a sniff.
The Cavs went on with it in the fourth quarter as the two teams exchanged runs, before James had a chance to tie the game up with 1.9 seconds left.
Down 129-132, James was fouled on a three by Robert Covington. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, forcing him to deliberately miss the third in the hope of an offensive rebound and a score to tie it. Larry Nance Jr had a chance, but his tip in clunked off the rim.
The Sixers leapfrogged the Cavs into the Eastern Conferences third seed, all without superstar centre Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a fractured orbital bone in his left eye.
JJ Redick poured in 28 points and the Sixers' bench outscored the Cavaliers bench 56-25 on the back of 23 from Marco Belinelli and a had his best game as a 17-point, 11 rebound double double from Ersan Ilyasova.
Jeff Green had 33 points and Kevin Love 17 in support of LeBron - who had a game-high eight turnovers - but no other Cav reached double digits.
The only player to record more triple doubles in their rookie season than Simmons is the legendary Oscar Robertson (26) and he is third in the league in that statistic behind James and Russell Westbrook.
With three games left, the Sixers destiny is in their own hands. Clashes against cellar dwellers Dallas and Atlanta should be wins, setting up a must-watch clash with the current Eastern Conference seventhh-seed Milwaukee.
The Cavs have one less game than the Sixers, but they are both against the lowly New York Knicks.