Game Review | In Loss to Pacers, Margin for Error Slim
If the regular season were to have ended Tuesday, the 76ers and Indiana Pacers would’ve been looking at a date in the first round of the playoffs, with the Sixers the sixth-place team in the Eastern Conference, and the Pacers third.
While there’s plenty of basketball still to be played before either team can punch its respective ticket to the post-season, the clubs’ high-intensity clash at The Center provided the Sixers with a tough, yet important, reminder:
Against the NBA’s elite, the margin for error becomes that much more slim.
Such was the case again in the Sixers’ 101-98 loss to the Pacers. The Sixers committed 21 turnovers, which led to Indiana posting a crucial 29-12 advantage in points off turnovers.
With Tuesday’s setback, the Sixers dropped 3.0 games behind Indiana in the standings, and had their streak of 13 consecutive victories in South Philadelphia come to an end. Indiana’s win also ensured the Pacers of a playoff tie-breaker, if needed, by virtue of clinching the season series, 2-1.
“Some of the turnovers, I give Indiana credit for,” said Brett Brown, referring to an opponent that began the day ranked third in the NBA in steals generated per 100 possessions, “but...turnovers were the single thing that I think influenced this game.”
Despite battling ball security issues throughout Tuesday’s contest, the Sixers were nevertheless in position to tie the game in the waning moments of regulation. A Joel Embiid 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds to go fell short.
The ensuing loose ball rebound resulted in a jump ball tie-up with 0.3 seconds left. Indiana won the tip, and managed to hang on.
Embiid topped the Sixers with 29 points and 12 rebounds for his 34th double-double of the season. He was dominant offensively in Tuesday’s second half, pouring in 22 points after intermission. The center tacked on 10 points in the final frame.
Ben Simmons made more history, with his seventh triple-double matching Magic Johnson’s total for the second-most ever for a rookie. The Australian point man tallied 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists, while committing 2 turnovers.
For the better part of the evening, the Sixers were successful defending Indy All-Star Victor Oladipo. The explosive guard missed 15 of his first 18 shots, but with just over three minutes to play in Tuesday’s fourth quarter, he connected on a key 3-pointer that increased the Pacers’ lead to 97-89.
From there, Embiid used a driving lay-up to cut the gap to 99-96, and later, powered home a rolling dunk to make it 101-98 with 13.4 seconds on the clock.
Drama then unfolded on Indiana’s sideline inbounds play, as Oladipo, double-teamed in the backcourt, swung his elbows while trying to fend off Simmons and T.J. McConnell. He was whistled for an offensive foul, and the Sixers got possession back.
Simmons put the ball in play, but Embiid, going for a possible tying three, hit the front iron.
“We’ve been pretty good at home, but we just didn’t make enough plays, dug ourselves in a pretty good hole otherwise,” McConnell said. “You can’t be a team with that many turnovers.”
Myles Turner had a big night for Indiana, racking up 25 points and 6 boards. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young was a steady presence as well, with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Sixers received 16 points from JJ Redick, and 18 from Dario Saric. Robert Covington manufactured a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Playoff Stakes Produce Playoff Feel
As we mentioned at the start of this game recap, Tuesday’s tilt not only carried playoff implications, but featured an edge-of-your-seat post-season feel.
“It was up there,” Ben Simmons said of the intensity of the Sixers’ pairing with Indiana. “I think [the Pacers] are a very competitive team, obviously a playoff team. Those types of teams we need to get wins against.”
On multiple levels, T.J. McConnell felt that Tuesday’s game might have offered a glimpse of what’s to come in the playoffs, should the Sixers ultimately qualify.
“I think we have a playoff atmosphere every night, but just the style of play in the game,” said the back-up point guard, who chipped in with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist.
“[The Pacers] are a playoff team, we’re a playoff team, and it was a playoff basketball game tonight.”
Embiid Ramps Up Down Stretch
With just under three minutes to go in Tuesday’s third quarter, Joel Embiid began an impressive offensive tear. He scored 8 points in a row to cap the period, then opened the fourth with a fading jump shot.
In the final five minutes of regulation, the All-Star turned in another impressive stretch, unleashing some furious interior moves to keep the Sixers within striking distance.
Brett Brown thought the feisty, at times chippy, tone of Tuesday’s game got Embiid going, after he went 2 for 7 in the first half for 7 points.
“I think he likes to get excited,” said Brown, who later added, “some of the plays he made at the end were good.”
Despite Tuesday’s outcome, the Sixers’ defense held up. They limited Indiana to 40.0 percent shooting, and a 5 for 24 effort from 3-point territory.
The Pacers entered the day ranked fifth in the NBA in both field goal percentage (47.6), and 3-point efficiency (37.3).
Another telling sign of the Sixers’ strong defensive play was that Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic finished a combined 5 for 32 from the field, and 1 for 9 on threes.
“I think that defensively, we were pretty good,” said Brett Brown
It was the 21 turnovers, however, that prevented the Sixers from ever being able to get over the hump.
“I feel like what we need to walk out of this game with is I believe the recognition that we’re close to being amongst a pretty elite group, we’re just not there yet,” Brown said. “I think that the month we have coming up, the remaining games, we can admit the truth and try to find a way to fix that and move up as high as we can in the Eastern standings.”
Hours after Philadelphia's longest-tenured professional athlete saw his run in the city come to an end, Brent Celek, released by the Eagles Tuesday afternoon, got a terrific, standing ovation hand from The Center’s sold out crowd. Celek, a tight end, was drafted by the Birds in 2007, his 11-year stint with the club culminating with last month’s Super Bowl win.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 13, 2018
Four days after making an appearance in one of New York’s five boroughs, the Sixers will be headed to another. On the heels of Sunday’s victory at Brooklyn, the club will head into the heart of Manhattan for their second and final outing of the season at Madison Square Garden. The Sixers have beaten the Knicks twice this year, 105-98 on Christmas Day, and then 108-92 at The Center on February 12th. Having lost All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for the rest of the season, New York entered Tuesday having dropped 15 of its last 16 contests.