Short any excuses for falling flat, the Indiana Pacers did just that in a crucial Eastern Conference matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. With the third seed on the line, the Pacers bricked their way to the most frustrating loss of the season. Things didn’t look good early, but they managed to muck the game up enough that they could hang tough with Philadelphia, going back and forth well into the second quarter.
With the game tied 36-36 halfway through the quarter, the Sixers seemed determined to lift themselves out of the muck, scoring 15 points in the final five minutes to push themselves up by six. The Pacers, in particular Thaddeus Young, had stretches where they could keep pace, but they were never able to piece it together on both ends, which became a real problem in the second half.
The Pacers, in “fortunate to be down just six” mode, cut the lead to three two minutes into the third, but surrendered an 8-0 run while missing their next three shots. That snowballed despite a strong stretch from Young with Philly putting together a 7-0 run to close the quarter, jumping up by 15.
The lead swelled to 18 roughly 50 seconds into the fourth in time for the Pacers to piece together their best stretch oft he night, rattling off a 10-0 run to cut the game to eight with plenty of time to go. The Pacers, who still came up with empty possessions in the run got back into the game by making things difficult defensively, forcing the 76ers into five turnovers in six possessions.
The ability to force turnovers on the Sixers is the exact formula Indiana used a year ago to beat Philadelphia and they put it into play early in the quarter. Unfortunately for them, after forcing Joel Embiid into three turnovers on his own in the stretch, Embiid stepped into a big time three to push the lead back to double figures. Back on the other end, Doug McDermott missed an open look, sending Philadelphia back down the floor, Ben Simmons finding Mike Muscala wide open in the corner for another three.
That three play stretch put Indiana in their place for the game as it just avalanched from there, resulting in a 24-point loss that wasn’t quite as reflective of the game as a whole, but absolutely deserving given the showing the Pacers put out there for the night. It’s impossible to find a single area where Indiana outplayed Philly because there absolutely wasn’t one.
The one thing the Pacers did better than the Sixers was take more shots. They had 10 extra attempts, but those extra shots still resulted in seven less makes and ultimately led them to be run out of the gym by the Philadephia three point shooting. The Sixers opened things up in the second half from deep, finishing the night 18-34, but few of those came were truly difficult looks. The Pacers allowed Philly to get comfortable, and from there, even had they been shooting well, it would have been a difficult game to come away with.
Indiana didn’t shoot well, however, so it all becomes moot. The Pacers somehow got above 40% for the night at 40.2%, but were a dreadful 9-29 from three point range. After a rocky start, Philadelphia began to settling into the easy looks, but that never became the case for the Pacers, who shot a dreadful 1-6 from the corners and just 2-11 from the elbows.
The 76ers did do a good job keeping the Pacers from finding success inside as well, holding them below 50% in the paint in the first half. Indiana managed to rack up extra attempts on all of those misses, but still had just six second chance points in the first half. Indiana held Philly to just two offensive rebounds in the first half, but it quickly piled up in the second half, with the Sixers picking up seven after the break.
In the end, both teams got to their respective final through total team efforts. The Sixers had six players in double figures, including three 20-point scorers. Their bench shot 8-11 from three, helping them to within a point of Indiana’s 31-point bench effort. Indiana meanwhile had just three double figure scorers and only Young got there on 50% shooting.
Young finished with a season high 27 points against his former team, shooting 11-17 from the field, including 3-3 from deep and 2-2 from the line. That kind of output it invaluable most nights, but not so much when the only other double figure scorer in the starting lineup is Victor Oladipo, who took the long way to 15 points on a dreadful 6-20 shooting night.
Oladipo has been off so often recently that this is actually one of his better offensive outputs, which isn’t a great sign for the Pacers as a team, especially on nights like this when Jimmy Butler and Embiid came through in big moments to make sure the Sixers were going to come out on top.
Even though Oladipo continued his struggles, the loss became a total team effort when Bojan Bogdanovic finished with just nine points on 3-11 shooting, including 1-7 from three, joined by Darren Collison with six points on 3-10 shooting and Myles Turner being completely absent from the offense with his eight points on 1-5 shooting.
Off the bench, Tyreke Evans led the way with 13 points. He got there on 6-14 shooting on 14 shots that were obviously good or not from the second the ball left his hands. Joining Young above 50% was Cory Joseph, who had eight points and six assists. Joseph had his floater working throughout the game, but there was never a real threat from him to absolutely take control of the game on a night when the Pacers needed a real scoring touch to compliment Young.
Domantas Sabonis didn’t provide it, struggling with one his worst games of the season, finishing with six points and eight rebounds, including an 0-2 night at the line. Sabonis had some nice moves in the post, but they never seemed to pay off against Embiid and Philly’s interior defense. McDermott, as mentioned earlier, couldn’t hit the crucial shots at any point, blanking from deep at 0-3.
The recent losses to Boston and Toronto were frustrating in their own way, but easier to excuse given the absence of Turner. That absolutely wasn’t the case tonight, as the Pacers drop to 3-6 against the other top teams in the East. That’s not a be-all-end-all given the Sixers are the same 3-6, but they are now 2-1 against the Pacers, including 2-0 in Indianapolis.
The Pacers will hold onto the third spot due to percentage points, but the failure to take advantage of the season series at home is going to be hard to swallow until these two teams meet up again on March 10 in Philadelphia. In the meantime, the Pacers continue their home stand, but will have a pair of tricky games coming up this weekend, beginning against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.