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T.J. Warren scores 53, leads Pacers to key win over 76ers

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Indiana closed out a hard fought 127-121 win over Philadelphia, outscoring the Sixers late thanks to a career night from T.J. Warren. The victory gives the Pacers a head-to-head tiebreaker over Philly.

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Leading up to their regular season restart in Orlando against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Indiana Pacers spent much of Saturday waiting on a decision regarding the availability of Victor Oladipo. His full participation in the practices prior to tip ultimately made his commitment to play easier, but while he was going to take the court, Malcolm Brogdon was not.

Brogdon was a late scratch following a neck strain, simply adding to the endless scroll of ailments he’s dealt with throughout this season, moving Justin Holiday into the starting lineup alongside Aaron Holiday. Already short Domantas Sabonis and Goga Bitadze to injuries of their own, the Pacers found themselves in a crucial return game vs. Joel Embiid and the 76ers.

The “keys to the game” seemed simple enough: don’t let Myles Turner get into foul trouble against Embiid. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Turner fouled Embiid on the opening play of the game and was immediately pulled following his second just past three and a half minutes into the game.

Even with Turner playing, the Pacers had fallen behind 10-2 before he hit a jumper to cut the lead to six. His exit immediately allowed Embiid to hit a pair of threes to put the lead back to eight. Things looked bleak with a slow start plagued by misses and turnovers, but by the tim the game’s first timeout took place with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter, the Pacers were somehow still in it, trailing by three.

Out of the timeout, the Pacers continued to rally, turning a seven point deficit into a double figure lead in just over four minutes, outscoring the Sixers 17-0 in that time. The catalyst to that run was T.J. Warren, who lit up for 11 points in the run, scoring 19 total in the quarter to help Indiana to a 35-29 lead after one.

In the second quarter, the Pacers tried out a 3-2 zone, which was successful in removing the ball from Embiid’s hands, but not so successful in preventing corner threes. Philadelphia scored well against the zone, using that to run off a 14-4 run of their own to take the lead, eventually leading to Turner picking up his third foul against Embiid four and a half minutes in.

After settling themselves, A. Holiday and Oladipo scored eight to push Indiana back ahead by three, allowing Warren to take over yet again, scoring eight points in 39 seconds to push Indiana’s lead back up to nine, eventually matching their 10-point lead from the first quarter. While JaKarr Sampson filled the backup center role admirably (even posting a team high +20), the defense did take a hit without Turner, allowing the 76ers to close the gap late, a TJ Leaf tip-in giving the Pacers a 61-55 lead at halftime.

After playing mistake free basketball for the entire second quarter, turnovers began to crop back up in the third quarter, allowing Philly to tie the game up with six straight points to open. This quarter, Turner lasted 100 seconds before heading back to the bench with his fourth foul, opening things up in a big way for the Sixers to take advantage.

They would outscore Indiana 14-3 across the first six minutes and change, holding Indiana to 1-11 shooting, and of more concern, Warren to 0-2 with a turnover taking a five point lead. Warren would score shortly thereafter, hiting a stepback three to tie the game up at 69-69. The response wasn’t so nice for the Pacers when Tobias Harris scored five of his own in response as the Sixers pushed their advantage up to six to end the third despite a strong close from T.J. McConnell.

In the early stages of the fourth, it was all Indiana could do to contain Embiid while not allowing Turner to pick up his fifth foul, his six early points in the quarter contributing to Philadelphia taking their first double figure lead at 98-88. Turner’s struggles in the game were well documented to that point, but he still managed to come through when the Pacers needed some extra contributions from anybody, scoring four straight to keep the game from inching beyond 10.

Just as it appeared Warren had made his greatest impact on the game, he stepped in with eight minutes remaining and scored seven straight, cutting an eight point deficit to three. A pair of McConnell free throws later, J. Holiday broke out of a difficult shooting slump with a crucial three pointer, putting Indiana on top 102-101 halfway through the quarter.

While Indiana struggled to get stops defensively thanks to their abysmal rebounding, A. Holiday ran back-to-back drives against Raul Neto to help them keep pace with Philadelphia’s offense, forcing Brett Brown into his second timeout in under a minute. With the game tied at 107-107, Turner found some much needed redemption, hitting a corner three with 4:30 minutes on the clock to put Indiana ahead by three.

Warren hit a three of his own followed by an Oladipo jumper, an 8-1 Pacers run putting them ahead by seven. Unfortunately, that inability to pull in rebounds allowed Embiid to follow his own miss, finding Harris for an and one opportunity that trimmed the lead to just four. Warren responded in kind, completing a three point play of his own. A. Holiday then worked his way to the line, going 3-4 to push Indiana’s lead to eight at 121-113 with 1:19 remaining.

Embiid’s lone three of the night came as a response only to have Warren hit his eighth three of the night to keep the lead at eight. Unfortunately, a costly turnover and Turner’s sixth foul put the Sixers in position to score five quick points, cutting the lead to just three with 30 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, Indiana ran the clock down with Warren rotating perfectly deep beyond the arc, a pass from A. Holiday resulting in Warren’s 12th three point attempt, and eventually, his ninth make, sinking the dagger on the 76ers in a thrilling 127-121 victory.

That final three completed not only a victory, but a career night for Warren, scoring 53 points on a scorching 20-29 shooting. Warren followed up his 19 first quarter points with 19 fourth quarter points, leading Indiana to a 46-point fourth quarter, outscoring Philadelphia 39-23 in the final 8:38 of the game.

More than just a dazzling number (the first 50-point game since Jermaine O’Neal’s 55-point outing in January 2005) was just how important each point ended up being. With Indiana playing shorthanded and lacking a consistent second scoring option all night, Warren did what he had to do to help the Pacers secure the win.

One of the more surprising aspects of Warren’s game was that the Sixers never really looked to double him, instead opting to allow Ben Simmons to take on the responsibilities in the latter parts of the game. This worked in the third quarter, not so much afterwards when Warren found his groove again in the fourth.

As Caitlin so eloquently pointed out early in the game, Warren is, in fact, a bucket, resulting in a really stunning shot chart in which Warren avoided baseline jumpers, a shot he’s struggled with on the year to round out his 20-29 shooting night.

Warren’s 53 also came on minimal free throw attempts, joining Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry as the only players since 2010 to score over 50 with less than five free throw attempts. It’s hard to argue with the numbers!

As mentioned, Warren’s night was largely a necessity due to the nature of the game. Embiid finished with 41 points and 21 rebounds, pulling in nine of Philly’s 20 offensive boards, nearly matching Indiana’s total of 10. The 76ers outrebounded Indiana by 21, a number that normally spells victory, but even beyond Warren’s extraordinary play, the Pacers were largely able to minimize the damage by forcing Philadelphia into 21 turnovers.

The Pacers scored 26 points off turnovers, creating a necessary margin of error against the lack of rebounding. A. Holiday and Oladipo each reached 15 points each to share second leading scorer honors, both getting there in different ways. Oladipo shot 6-14, hitting a pair of threes, looking for his own shot in support of Warren. This ultimately resulted in a team high three turnovers, but he also lead them with seven boards.

A. Holiday on the other hand had one of, if not the most controlled game of his career, compiling a double double with 10 assists (and one turnover). Playmaker Aaron hasn’t always been effective, but even beyond Warren helping his assist numbers out, his decision making wasn’t erratic either. He made the right play throughout the night, dishing on three key fourth quarter threes.

As a scorer, Holiday also found considerable success. His recognition to not only attack Neto halfway through the fourth on the drive, but to go right back to the exact same play on the very next possession provided Indiana five easy points when easy scoring was at a premium beyond Warren. His cool demeanor at the free throw line late was a welcome sight as well, hitting three of four late with the game still in reach.

Off the bench, Sampson and Leaf picked up the minutes from Turner following his constant foul trouble, leading to some excellent energy from Sampson and a mixed bag at best from Leaf. Sampson fought to six boards and four points, but helped to limit Embiid’s effectiveness early in the half, though he was clearly looking spent late in it. Leaf on the other hand continued to largely look out of place on the floor, looking lost with the ball and committing bad fouls, but still managed to bring in key rebounds and throw down against Embiid in transition at the same time.

McConnell also helped tremendously with the energy early while playing a steady hand as a playmaker, dishing eight assists to go with his 10 point outing. Before finding Warren on three straight plays to start Indiana’s comeback in the fourth, he had spread five dimes to four different players, including Doug McDermott. McDermott finished with 10 points, getting there despite having no real looks from three all night, finishing 0-2.

This win was nothing if not scrappy, but it was an important one to get nonetheless. This win guarantees a 3-1 series victory over Philly, locking them into the tiebreaker advantage should the teams end the season with the same record, something that isn’t completely unlikely.

As it stands, the Pacers nab their 40th victory of the season, moving ahead by one game on these Sixers. Indiana will be back in action on Monday, kicking off their lone back-to-back of the bubble, facing the Washington Wizards.