While the Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2013-14 regular season pegged to be the worst team in recent (if not all time) NBA history, but in the early going, they have proven to be anything but. There's a whole lot of fight in the Sixers, and despite being down three starters, they weren't shy at staying solid and pushing the Indiana Pacers to the brink. In the end, it was defensive plays made by Roy Hibbert that helped swing the game in Indiana's favor, but Philly didn't make it easy.
The Sixers spent all 48 minutes gunning away and ballhawking every lazy pass from the Pacers. They corralled 23 offensive rebounds resulting in 102 field goal attempts. It sure helps soften the blow of 34% shooting when you get an extra 26 shots at the basket. Frank Vogel didn't express much concern after the game, stating they did had 67 chances to bring in the offensive rebound, but that's still an absurdly high offensive rebounding rate. The Sixers got most of them off of long misses, but there was certainly a little extra fight in the Philly players to pull in those misses and give them more chances.
On the defensive end, the Pacers were made to pay for every lazy pass they made, as the Sixers came away with 15 steals on the game. The Pacers didn't do a great job breaking out of traps or zones, and it benefited the length of Michael Carter-Williams, who had seven steals on the night as part of his 29 point, six rebound effort. Carter-Williams lived up to his hype tonight despite struggling from the free throw line, helping to keep the Sixers alive time and time again.
This was a rather odd game as far as game flow goes because of the contrast between the starter and bench contributions. Well, not so much in relation to last season, maybe, but the Pacers bench, protected at the rim by Luis Scola and Chris Copeland were carved up time and time again, each time erasing workable Pacers advantages, relying on the starters to make the comebacks and stave off potential Philly magic. For whatever reason, Ian Mahinmi drew up a tidy DNP-CD from Vogel, whether by matchups or other reasons, but it was painfully obvious when Hibbert went out that the two headed Copeland/Scola "monster" weren't providing any semblance of interior defense.
It also didn't help that the offense struggled with the bench unit tonight as well. Scola had perhaps his worst night as a Pacers with just three points and five rebounds (an 0-4 shooting puts his night straight into Hansbrough territory), while Orlando Johnson helped illustrate Indiana's struggles around the rim, which were, to be fair, a team wide issue throughout the night. For all the bad that went on in this game, the Pacers were still well within reach against a short-handed Sixers team despite simply getting beat.
Hibbert came up big throughout the night, not only scoring 27 points and getting to the line at will, but making a huge impact on the defensive end. Hibbert had six blocks on the night, three coming in the fourth quarter, where you could argue he took the game over. Hibbert not only sent shots away, but came up with some key rebounds down the stretch that helped keep Philadelphia away from some boards they would've certainly come up with otherwise.
It added to his 13 for the night, but he also got to the line a staggering 16 times, hitting 13 of his attempts. His impact makes the lack of Mahinmi all the more puzzling. Even taking away Mahinmi being confusingly foul prone, he would've been able to offer up much more than Copeland/Scola did inside. It all came out in the wash thanks to the starters, however, with all five reaching double figures.
Paul George had 19 points, with three steals, but wasn't quite able to make the same impact he had throughout the season in tonight's game. He wasn't finding shots in rhythm and made a lot of plays with a hero ball mentality. Lance Stephenson shot the ball well at 8-11 for 18 points and George Hill had 11 with six rebounds and five assists to minimize the advantage Carter-Williams had on him all night. David West was big as well with an 18 point, 11 rebound double double, dishing out six assists along the way, adding in a pair of blocks.
Indiana moves to 12-1 on the season with a tough win against a spirited opponent, setting up a home contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. After an impressive start to the year, the Timberwolves have slipped to 3-5 in their last eight games, including a loss tonight in Houston. They're still a team that will provide a steep challenge with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio leading a potent starting five. This will provide an early test with Indiana's impossibly difficult Western road trip looming just a week away.