Embiid warming up

The Sixers (48-30) visited the Indiana Pacers (25-54) on Tuesday night. Philadelphia intended to claim its 3rd consecutive victory. Indiana hoped to snap a 7-game losing streak. The Sixers set a new franchise record for threes made in a game, hitting 23 triples en route to a 131-122 victory over the Pacers.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Philadelphia was without the services of Charles Bassey, Jaden Springer, and Myles Powell (Two-Way), all of whom were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats.

Doc Rivers started James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Indiana was without Malcolm Brogdon, who was nursing a sore lower back.

Chris Duarte was out with a sore left big toe. Goga Bitadze missed the game with a sore right foot.

Ricky Rubio was out with a torn left ACL. Myles Turner is healing from a stress reaction in his left foot and was unavailable.

TJ Warren is recovering from a fractured left Navicular bone and was out.

Rick Carlisle started Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Terry Taylor, Oshae Brissett, and Isaiah Jackson.


All the defense the Sixers didn’t play in the first half, they certainly made up for it on the other end of the court. They caught fire early and never looked back. Embiid eventually got around to dominating the game, scoring 27 points with only 3 free throw attempts before intermission. Embiid didn’t play from the outside-inward, either. He only attempted 2 triples in the first half. Aside from a couple of midrange jumpers, Embiid got his scores by muscling his way into the middle of the lane and finishing at the rim. 

He fed off of his teammates, as well. There were a number of plays in which he flashed to the strong side of the floor and opened out of the post on swing passes, giving his teammates clear windows to make quick entry passes for him to pivot and score at the rim. I’m not putting too much stock in it given how ill-matched and disinterested the Pacers were on defense. It won’t ever be that easy for him in meaningful games. But, all you can do is play the team in front of you. And he thoroughly and utterly dominated Indiana.

Speaking of first half heaters, Tyrese Maxey unloaded the clip on the Pacers in the opening 24 minutes. He hit 7 threes in the first half, and did it in a variety of contexts. He knocked in a number of them off the catch when the Sixers swung around the horn. Maxey spaced out in transition and knocked them down from the corner. He even sprinkled in step-back threes, as well. It was the most confident Maxey has looked as a three-point shooter ever, and he was well on his way to breaking the Sixers’ individual record for most threes made in a game at the midway point.

The Sixers, as a team, hit 17 of their 28 three-point attempts in the first half and set a new franchise record for threes in a game. They were certainly letting it fly.

When Embiid checked in to clean up the damage the Pacers did to get back in the game while DeAndre Jordan was on the floor, you felt his MVP-level impact on the defensive side of the floor. On the first Indiana possession with him back on the court, Embiid walked the line in drop coverage perfectly and forced Tyrese Haliburton into a dangerous skip pass to the weak side. It was deflected by Shake Milton, and the Sixers got out in transition for a score. Those plays don’t show up in Embiid’s box score, but that is the intangible domino effect of value. The Pacers still managed to score with Embiid back on the floor to close the game, but they weren’t pouring it in the way they were with Jordan on the court.


The Sixers have become the team of old heads that young, rebuilding teams love to play. They’re not quite as bad at getting back on defense as the actual old heads — the Los Angeles Lakers — are. But, their lack of speed and athleticism has been a point of vulnerability all season. The Pacers, energized by a chance to establish themselves in the league and spry in their youth, feasted on Philadelphia in transition in the first quarter.

The Sixers obviously aren’t worried about the Pacers as a matchup in the playoffs. But, those types of athletic teams are going to create live-ball turnovers or crash the boards on Philadelphia’s misses to get them back-pedaling in transition. The Sixers, who very clearly had no interest in guarding against a tanking team on the road with 4 games left in the regular season, gave up far too many easy baskets in the first quarter.

Even in the half-court, the likes of Tyrese Haliburton coasted to the rim for relatively untouched finishes. Both his man, whoever it was, and the helper did very little to keep the ball in front. Beyond that, Buddy Hield got practice-level looks from deep in the first quarter. Neither James Harden nor Danny Green had any intention of getting out to guard him when he caught skip passes with multiple footsteps of space.

The putrid defense did not get any better throughout the rest of the game. Philadelphia merely outshot the Pacers throughout the game. When you shoot 23-for-40 from beyond the arc to break your franchise record for threes made in a game, you’re almost never going to lose that game no matter how little you try on the other end of the floor. But, the Sixers shot themselves into a 27-point lead in the third quarter. When you’re playing the 79th of 82 games against a bad team, you’re going to let down on some of the intensity that got you to that point. 

But, the Sixers aren’t good enough to check out of games and win solely on talent while they go through the motions. That right is reserved for the Phoenix Suns of the world. The Sixers won the three-point contest by 11 makes and connected on 2 more field goals than the Pacers did. Indiana won the free throw battle by 6 makes. Yet, the Sixers pulled out a 9-point victory.

The Sixers got away from defensive principles — they didn’t care about beating offensive players to spots and they defended with their hands. Beyond that, they were out of position in their coverages. As such, the Pacers got great looks from deep and knifed their ways to the rim for acrobatic finishes over Embiid. When DeAndre Jordan replaced Embiid late in the third quarter, the flood gates opened.

In many ways, the Jordan ejection early in the fourth quarter for a Flagrant 2 foul saved the game for the Sixers. The Pacers were prepared to turn a 27-point deficit into a 2-possession game. But as soon as Embiid came back for the departed Jordan, the Sixers re-claimed control.

We’ve said this dozens of times, but Jordan’s play is the common denominator here. It’s not his fault, he’s just naturally aging. But, the reality is that he’s not a rotation player in this league any more. On Tuesday, the Sixers were outscored by 11 points in the 9 minutes Jordan was on the court. Perhaps the Sixers wouldn’t have lost the game had it not been for the ejection, but the hemorrhaging would’ve continued. Even if he gets the occasional block or devours a rebound, Jordan is often out of position in his pick-and-roll coverage and otherwise cannot defend without fouling. Doc Rivers seems willing to blow a playoff run if it means depending on Jordan. And it just might change his future in Philadelphia, according to Jake Fischer. And that would be a shame of a way to end what might just be an MVP season for Embiid.

The Sixers (49-30) will visit the Toronto Raptors (46-33) on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.