PHILADELPHIA — As Rod Thorn waited outside Cleveland’s locker room for coach Byron Scott to finish addressing his team, the Sixers general manager had a good idea what was being said in the postgame speech: How could the Cavs let recently benched Sixers guard Jodie Meeks get a career-high 31 points?
“I don’t think anyone in the building expected Jodie to go for 31,” Thorn said. “But he played great tonight, didn’t he? Darned near broke the game open himself. But I tell you what. We’ll take that every night the rest of the way.
In a division race as tight as the Atlantic, they might need it.
Besides Meeks’ 31, Jrue Holiday had 19 to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 103-85 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
The Sixers romped without forward Andre Iguodala, who missed his second straight game because of left patella tendinitis. Meeks started in his place and made the most of his opportunity, making 7 of 10 3-pointers. Meeks was the second Sixer this season to reach the 30-point mark and his seven 3-pointers were as many as he hit over the past six games combined.
“I just know I was open,” Meeks said. “I was relaxed and just shot. I haven’t been shooting as well. But I just tried to take good shots. Any time a shooter sees the ball go in the hole, it gives him confidence.”
Evan Turner scored 12 points for the Sixers, who moved a half-game ahead of Boston and back into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division. The Sixers have held the top spot in the Atlantic for all but a few days early in the season.
“We’re in the fire right now, but that’s where we want to be,” coach Doug Collins said. “I’d rather be in the fire than be on the outside looking in.”
Thorn hired Scott in New Jersey and the two of them — with a little help from Jason Kidd — went to two NBA finals in 2002 and 2003. Thorn eventually gave up on waiting for Scott, and just walked into the locker room, on his own, to see him. But, before he did, he knew what Scott was feeling.
“Man, he must be (upset),” Thorn said.
Anthony Parker scored 14 points and Kyrie Irving had 12 for the Cavaliers, who dropped their fourth straight.
“Guys have lost some confidence,” Scott said.
The Sixers made 3 of 5 free throws — a low for a team that is averaging only 17.7 attempts this season.
The Sixers were one of the early season surprises in the NBA when they rolled to a 20-9 start. But a tougher schedule, injuries to center Spencer Hawes, and trying to win big without a superstar caught up with the Sixers and they hit a rough patch.
The Sixers have gone 8-14 since that start but never lost their grip on first — or fourth place in the East. Had the Sixers lost to Cleveland, they would have tumbled to seventh in the conference standings.
Even without Iguodala, their top perimeter defender, the outcome was never in doubt Tuesday.
The Cavs scored the game’s first five points before Meeks got hot from 3-point range and led the Sixers on a 12-0 run. He scored 12 points in the first quarter, Holiday took over in the second (4-of-6 shooting for eight points), and the Sixers led 57-43 at halftime.
Meeks started the first 38 games of the season before Collins benched him with the Sixers in a 2-8 funk. Meeks had started 102 straight games when Collins decided to give Turner, the 2010 No. 2 overall draft pick, a turn in the backcourt. Meeks was scuffling from 3-point range at the time of his benching, but he had that long-range stroke going against the Cavs.
“He comes in, he’s always ready,” Collins said. “He’s got a motor. A lot of guys, it’s hard to do.”
Meeks’ sixth 3-pointer topped his previous career best of 26 points and stretched the lead to 96-78. With Meeks leading the way, the Sixers made 10 of 19 3-pointers.
The Cavaliers had another uninspired effort in another season headed toward the draft lottery. After the Cavs were flat in a loss to Phoenix on Sunday, Scott ran them harder in practice on Monday than he had since training camp.
It didn’t matter, not with the way Meeks was hurting them from outside.
“There is a lack of communication, yes,” Irving said. “We are lacking that right now, for sure, and it’s just a matter of learning from that. We know what we have to do for 40 minutes, and it’s just a matter of doing it. We have to stay optimistic, we cannot get down on ourselves. We have to keep fighting through times like these.”