The losing streak climbs to eight for the Indiana Pacers, but not before clamping down for their second best defensive half of the streak, holding the Philadelphia 76ers to 49 second half points. That’d be cause for celebration had they not allowed 82 first half points, falling behind by as many as 27 before climbing back into within four early in the fourth quarter.
That it got so out of hand was a bit of surprise given how well the Pacers played in the first quarter. Indiana had the ball zipping around in the opening period, going toe-to-toe with Philadelphia throughout the quarter. T.J. McConnell returned to action, making a big defensive stand at the end of the quarter by using up the foul to give and then forcing Tyrese Maxey out of bounds on the inbounds.
That allowed Tyrese Haliburton to race to the other end for the go-ahead bucket with 5.2 on the clock. Unfortunately for the Pacers, their bout of misfortune would begin on the following play when Joel Embiid pulled up for an impossibly tough three pointer to beat the buzzer, banking it in to give the Sixers a 33-31 lead.
It was the eighth three of the quarter for Philly, coming alive after a bit of a slow start. That was mere child’s play however compared to what happened in the second quarter, when the 76ers unleashed a torrent of three point shots, shooting 9-11 in the quarter, including 4-4 from Maxey. Though Lance Stephenson did provide a bit of a boost early in the quarter to help Indiana to within three five minutes in, Philadelphia blew the game open on a 33-13 run to close the half, finishing with 49 points in the quarter alone, led by Embiid and Maxey with over 20 points each.
After piling on 17 first half threes, Philadelphia gave making more threes a try, hitting two more to open the half to extend their already massive lead out to 27 at 90-63. Similar to their game against Denver, the Pacers found something in their misery, responding with a 20-7 run to all but cut the lead in half.
After the Sixers inched the lead back up to 17, the Pacers scored nine straight to end the quarter, finishing an impressive Jalen Smith and-one to wrap up a 40-point quarter of their own, trailing by just eight heading into the fourth. Smith continued to play well in the fourth, hitting a three and coming away with an errant James Harden pass to send Duane Washington Jr. to the basket.
Washington was contested at the basket by DeAndre Jordan, who in an attempt to block the shot, got a good whack in on Washington’s head, prompting the officials to coalesce on a potential flagrant foul. They would go above and beyond on the decision, ejecting Jordan on a flagrant two to the rejoice of Philly fans everywhere.
That decision forced Doc Rivers to put Embiid back into the game with nine minutes remaining and while Washington would eventually cut the lead to four on a corner three, the Pacers committed turnovers on their other five possessions, giving the Sixers ample opportunities to score 11 straight points.
The Pacers got things back into single digits by the end of it, but that stretch more or less put the cap on any potential upset they might be able to pull off, losing their eighth in a row. Just as Nikola Jokic’s steadiness allowed Denver to close out Indiana week ago, Embiid’s defense had the same presence as Indiana shot under 50% in the paint in the fourth, mustering up just 23 points in the final period.
It was another night of defensive horrors for the Pacers, allowing the Sixers to shoot 54% overall and 23-40 from three point range, setting a franchise record in the process. When the Pacers did step up on that end of the floor, they typically found success. While they allowed Philly to score 30 points off turnovers, the Pacers had 27 themselves. Indiana also dominated the glass, winning the offensive rebound battle 16-5 and scoring 29 second chance points in the process. All of that allowed the Pacers to minimize the massive three point shooting difference, though obviously not by enough.
The Pacers were led on the night by Buddy Hield, who scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting with 11 rebounds and five assists. It was the first double double of the season for Hield, who helped close the deficit with 13 third quarter points. Haliburton meanwhile finished with 21 points on 7-12 shooting, hitting three of his four triples, but for all the success he’s had with turnovers, Philadelphia had his number tonight, forcing him into six, each one eliciting a bout of frustration from the young guard.
To say the bigs did well against Embiid is a bit of a laugh considering the MVP candidate had 45 points and 13 rebounds, but there were some impressive minutes offered up by both Jackson and Smith, both largely remaining out of foul trouble beyond an early two for Jackson. Jackson had 16 points, leading the way for the Pacers at the free throw line at 6-6 and Smith scored 19 with seven rebounds. The two had seven of Indiana’s 10 blocks.
Terry Taylor had a double digit night himself with 13 points and three offensive rebounds. Off the bench, Washington scored 12 points, nine in the fourth, and Stephenson bounced back from his poor outing against Detroit with 10 points tonight, livening up the Gainbridge Fieldhouse fans in the final home game of the season.
The Pacers finish the year 16-25 at home, which goes a long way in explaining why they’re now 30 games under .500 with two away games remaining. The Pacers fall to 11-39 on the year against Eastern Conference teams, a win loss record that doesn’t appear to have much chance to improve given their final two opponents.
The first of those two games will come on Saturday when the Pacers wrap up the season series against these 76ers. The tip will be an early one, 1 p.m. Eastern, before Indiana closes out the year against the Brooklyn Nets in another weekend matinee on Sunday.