The minor concerns from a solid first half turned into a boatload of problems for the Indiana Pacers after the break, resulting in a whimper of a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers scored 59 first half points, using a 5-0 run to end the half to lead by eight, holding off a late Sixers surge after leading by as many as 14 in the quarter.
Things were going well for the Pacers just by looking at the scoreboard, but the underlying issues made sure they wouldn’t build a lead any larger than 14 due to quick foul trouble from their bigs and a shocking number of misses at the free throw line.
The former was weathered well by the Pacers thanks to the return of Domantas Sabonis so that despite he and Myles Turner picking up three fouls fairly quickly, the second unit was able to impose their will on the 76ers second unit, outscoring them 28-8 in the half. They were also able to get excellent minutes from Kyle O’Quinn in filling in after the foul trouble kicked in for both bigs.
Unfortunately, they didn’t fare so well from the free throw line, going just 9-17 in the half. That kept them from ever pushing the lead into the 20-point range, which would have provided them with some extra cover should something go horribly awry in the second half. Not saying things will go horribly awry, just that the extra bit of an advantage could be nice.
Turner stepped into a three to open the half, pushing the Pacers lead to 11. Immediately afterwards, Joel Embiid drew Turner into his fourth foul, sending him to the bench. The foul allowed Philadelphia to close the gap, making it a three point game. Turner returned after Sabonis had picked up his fourth foul, picking up a big block on Amir Johnson with the Pacers up five.
Jimmy Butler corralled the block for a putback, but Indiana responded, pushing the lead back up to five on a Bojan Bogdanovic layup with 6:55 remaining in the third. That field goal was significant given it was the final field goal of the quarter for the Pacers. At that point, the bottom fell out for the Indiana offense, leading them to miss 12 straight to the end the quarter, a dubious streak that was extended to 16 total before Doug McDermott hit a shot early in the fourth.
The misses on the floor carried over to the free throw line as the team shot just 1-4 to end the third at the line, giving them just one point in the final 6:55 of the third. Even still, the Sixers just couldn’t take advantage of the misses. The score was frozen at 69-66 for two and a half minutes and there was just one field goal between the two teams in the final 6:11 of the third.
Neither team could manufacture any scoring, but the difference ended up being at the free throw line. Where Indiana missed three free throws down the stretch of the quarter, Philadelphia made three, giving them just enough to finally break through into the lead heading into the fourth.
From there, the avalanche began. The Sixers scored eight points in the first two minutes of the fourth to make it a double figure game. The Pacers cut it to six in a “okay, maybe this isn’t out of hand” kind of run, but Embiid proved the closer the Pacers lack in their current state, scoring on an and-one and wrapping up the night with 18 points in the fourth quarter to push the 76ers into the win column and into 3rd place in the East.
The Pacers matched their 11-point fourth quarter with just 19 in the fourth, which an improvement, was a far cry from the 34 they scored in the second and the same 34 they allowed in the final quarter. Their 30 second half points and 89 total are a season low, they missed a season high 15 free throws, and at 37.3% shooting for the game, barely escaped having their worst shooting game of the year. In summary, they picked the wrong week to have their worst half of the season, and it likely cost them the 3rd seed.
Part of the downfall was due to the Sixers’ defense, but Indiana deserves their own blame in this for the lid they placed on the basket in the second half. The return of Sabonis was a welcome sight for a second unit that needed what he brings in terms of passing and rebounding, but he still shot just 1-7 from the floor. He and Turner were just 3-14 combined for 15 points on a night where as a team the Pacers shot just 40% from the paint. They couldn’t figure out Embiid on either end and Sabonis didn’t help matters by going just 7-12 from the free throw line.
No one who shot multiple free throws hit them all, including a 5-8 night from Bogdanovic and 3-7 from Darren Collison, who were the only two double figure scorers in the starting lineup with 18 and 14 respectively. McDermott led a 37-point bench effort with 10 points, but after the excellent showing in the first half, they allowed the 76ers bench to get the best of them 13-9.
The Pacers will return home after a winless road trip, hosting the New York Knicks on Tuesday for their only reprieve in a schedule that will continue to feature playoff teams with closers and MVP candidates as they now look to keep within striking distance of third while still holding home to home court.