Game Review | Embiid Completes First Back-to-Back, but Pacers Prevail
Saturday’s pairing between the 76ers and Indiana Pacers was noteworthy on a couple fronts.
On the collective level, it paired together two young, up-and-coming, playoff-hungry Eastern Conference clubs jockeying for improved positioning in the standings.
Breaking down the contest in terms of its individual participants, the spotlight was very much on a high-impact 7-footer, who, prior to tip off, had never before been cleared to play two games in as many nights.
Completing the first back-to-back of his professional career, Joel Embiid battled -- providing the Sixers with a physical, active presence. The big man’s game-high 24 points (9-19 fg, 0-4 3fg) and 10 rebounds weren’t enough, as the Pacers pulled out a 100-92 victory.
After giving up 133 points Friday in a loss at Charlotte, Indiana came out with purpose Saturday, and got increasingly stronger defensively as the tilt went along. The Pacers held the Sixers to 35 points in the second half, and forced seven fourth-quarter turnovers.
“I give credit to Indiana,” said Brett Brown. “I thought their defense at home was excellent.”
The Sixers trailed by one point, 76-75, heading into the final frame, but Lance Stephenson went on a tear, having a say in 15 straight points, and fueling a 22-9 run that put Indy in the driver’s seat.
“They got the better of us defensively,” Brown said.
In the loss, Ben Simmons registered his 20th double-double of the season, tying the second-highest total ever for a Sixers’ rookie. He had 10 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and went a second straight game without commiting a turnover.
Stephenson posted 14 points (5-11 fg, 2-5 3fg) and 9 boards for the Pacers, which received 19 points apiece from All-Star Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Indiana entered Saturday tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference, and, by the end of the evening, had moved 3.0 games ahead of the eighth-place Sixers.
Undoubtedly one of the more distinct, unpredictable players in the NBA, Lance Stephenson, in his eighth season as a pro, left his stamp on Saturday’s game in a major way.
Having scored just two points through three quarters in 12 minutes of action, Stephenson went off at the outset of the fourth. Sixty seconds into the period, he nailed a pullup jumper. Then, after sandwiching two rebounds around a wildly errant pass, Stephenson dimed Al Jefferson for a jam, before dialing up a 3-pointer that answered a Joel Embiid hook shot.
In the moments that followed, Stephenson slammed home a dunk off a Sixer turnover, assisted on two more Indiana baskets, and sunk a pair of free throws.
At that point, the one-point deficit the Sixers faced to start the fourth quarter had swelled to 10. Stephenson proceeded to put Saturday’s contest out of reach with a triple that made it 96-83 with just over three minutes to go.
“That’s what he does, and he’s really good at it,” said Brett Brown, when discussing the veteran guard’s impact.
Stephenson also corralled nine boards.
“He came in and really just kind of changed the game with that lightning in a bottle off the bench mentality.”
With 14 points Saturday, Stephenson reached double-digits for a season-high sixth consecutive game.
Embiid, Brown Encouraged by First Back-to-Back
Less than 24 hours after logging 31 minutes - his season average - in Friday’s 103-97 home win over Miami, Joel Embiid turned around and played 33 minutes, 37 seconds in Saturday’s loss at Indiana. The total was the 14th-highest of his 71-game career. It also marked the long-awaited, long-anticipated completion of his first-ever back-to-back set.
Behind 24 points and 10 rebounds, Embiid registered his fifth straight double-double and 25th overall for the year. He notched his 17th 20-point, 10-rebound performance as well.
“Just look at his numbers,” said Brett Brown. “I think for him to do that, in his first back-to-back, full credit to him, really.”
In the same breath, the head coach acknowledged that in a loss in which Embiid committed seven turnovers, the center probably wouldn’t be fully satisfied.
“I’m happy that I finally played in a back-to-back, but I wish we’d gotten the win,” Embiid said. “They just got the better of us.”
Embiid gave reporters inside the locker room encouraging news, saying that he didn’t feel tired during Saturday’s tilt, and that his legs and body were “fine.”
Now presented with the possibility of having the All-Star available on an even more extensive basis, Brown was able to look forward with optimism, despite Saturday’s defeat.
“I think it’s only positive, the more he’s with us and playing with us, that’s a good thing,” said Brown. “I feel like we’re going to start to thrive more and more in a positive way because we’re now playing with him more.”
Following a loss to Brooklyn Wednesday in which the Nets had their way offensively, the Sixers went into this weekend’s games focused on getting back on track defensively.
All in all, Brett Brown liked what he saw in a home-road back-to-back split versus Miami and Indiana.
“I think that both nights, the defense was pretty good,” he said.
Knocking off Miami by six points Friday, the Sixers contained the Heat for 97 points, and 39.1 percent shooting. Saturday, Indiana - ranked sixth in the NBA in offensive rating (108.3), and third in field goal percentage (48.2) - was limited to 100 points, while shooting 44.3 percent from the floor.
It was All-Star x All-Star on a collision course to the rim during this first-quarter sequence, and Joel Embiid, who will play for Team Stephen in this month’s superstar showcase, got the better of Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, picked as a reserve for Team LeBron.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 4, 2018
After a demanding stretch during which they were required to play five of six games on the road, the Sixers will be able to look forward to a home-heavy chunk of the schedule. With Tuesday’s nationally-televised clash with the Washington Wizards, the Sixers will open a five-game homestand that carries them into the NBA’s annual All-Star break. As of Saturday, Washington ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference, riding a three-game winning streak, but just 2.0 games in front of the Sixers. Last week, the Wizards announced that All-Star John Wall would miss six to eight weeks following a left knee procedure.