Thaddeus Young

Sixers fail biggest test of the season

Sixers fail biggest test of the season

Call it the curse of the overachiever. At the beginning of the season, if you'd told Sixers fans that in mid-March, they'd be going down to the wire at home against the third seed in the Eastern Conference but coming up just short, you'd consider it a pretty reasonable state of affairs. But this Sixers squad has so eclipsed expectations this year that not only are they legitimately competing with the No. 3 seed, they're legitimately competing for the No. 3 seed. Consequently, last night's 101-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers hurt about as much as any in recent Sixers memory. 

It was the Sixers' first loss at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018, and the first (true) home game this season where the Sixers never really felt in control. In many ways, Philly was lucky to only lose by three — they turned the ball over 21 times (eight by Joel Embiid alone), gave up 14 offensive rebounds, and allowed the Pacers 20 more shots overall on the game. Some hot first-half shooting from JJ Redick and a dominant late-third-quarter stretch from Embiid kept the Sixers in it, but countless times, the Sixers would cut the lead to three or two, then throw the ball away on the next possession, or allow an Indiana putback. It felt like the more playoff-ready team won last night, and it obviously wasn't us. 

Which, again, not the end of the world. This was arguably the toughest game remaining on the Sixers' schedule, and from here things get pretty damn simple: They're in New York on Thursday, then host the Nets, Hornets and Grizzlies, before heading to Orlando. The Sixers will be overwhelming favorites in all five of those games, and even if they lose one of 'em, they should be in pretty good shape: They're still fairly entrenched in the sixth seed, and with the teams around them all holding tougher upcoming dockets than Philly, 4-1 should be enough to gain a game or two on someone. At the very least, the Sixers are all but a guaranteed playoff team: With the Pistons seven games under .500, there's absolutely no one outside the postseason picture currently pushing for the eighth seed in the East. 

But yeah, last night was disappointing. The Pacers are good but they're not true contenders; they've got veterans but they're still pretty young on the whole. If the Sixers were a for-real threat in the East, they'd probably have been able to take care of business — or at the very least, forced Indy to handle business themselves, rather than largely giving the game away to them. The Sixers are now 1-5 in their last six games against East playoff teams, and though previously we'd had the excuse of the first five of those contests being on the road, now we've proven that we're hardly invincible at home, either. The Sixers might not be a team anyone wants to face in the first round, but there aren't a lot of East playoff teams looking like pushovers to us right now either. 

Still: 29 and 12 for Embiid, a seventh triple-double for Ben Simmons (tying him with Magic Johnson for second-most in rookie history), 18 for Dario Saric … and hey, Markelle Fultz is shooting like a professional basketball human again! Life goes on, as does The Process. There'll come a day where the Sixers are able to pass such tests, and the fact it sucks this much that it wasn't last night is kinda cool in its own way.   

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar


If the Sixers face the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, get ready for a physical battle. The Pacers will be doing just that.

Tuesday’s meeting in mid-March was a potential postseason preview with the Pacers (40-28) and Sixers (36-30) ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. 

The Pacers made a statement with their 101-98 win (see observations)

“We try to set examples early,” Lance Stephenson said. “We ain't no jokes. We're coming after you.” 

The Pacers have been keeping an eye on the Sixers as they fight to rise in the standings. The Sixers are chasing a coveted top-four seed to secure home-court advantage. The Pacers, who are 23-12 at home compared to 16-17 on the road, are in the same battle. 

“Most definitely, you've got to have your hard hat on when you play against these boys, especially here at home, because they're a physical team,” Al Jefferson said. “I know if we do get a chance to play them in the first [round], it's going to be a physical series.”

Both teams have turned heads this season. The Pacers looked more like a lottery team than a playoff contender after trading Paul George to the Thunder. That is, before Victor Oladipo kicked off his breakout season and the Pacers clicked far beyond expectations. 

The Sixers had the potential to make the playoffs, but battling for home court, that’s playing at a different level of basketball. 

“They're a young team that plays hard,” Myles Turner said. “I feel like they've used a lot of fuel over the past couple of years as not being like a relevant team to kind of fuel their play this year.”

The Pacers won the regular-season series, 2-1. The Sixers triumphed in their first meeting Nov. 3 in Philadelphia thanks to 31 points from JJ Redick and a triple-double from Ben Simmons. The Pacers spoiled Joel Embiid’s first career back-to-back set with a balanced team effort Feb. 3 in Indianapolis. Tuesday’s game came down to the wire as 21 turnovers stifled the Sixers in a chippy matchup (see story)

The Pacers have had enough of a sample size to know what to anticipate in a postseason series. Jefferson noted the balance of rising young talent and experienced veterans. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young pointed out specifically the impact of Simmons’ size mismatch and passing abilities as well as Embiid’s versatility and floor spacing. 

“They're just a resilient team. They fight each and every game and they continue to play hard,” Young said. “That's what makes them tough. They've done a very, very good job of putting the team together. Brett Brown is a damn good coach.”

With only four games separating the third seed from the eighth in the Eastern Conference, it is far too soon to tell where the Sixers will end up in the standings. The Pacers are using Tuesday's win as a learning experience in case they are matched up.

"They always play physical," Stephenson said. "You've just got to stay poised and play your game. But they're a great team. I like how they play together. So we just pulled it out tonight." 

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test


There were playoff implications on the line between the Sixers and Pacers — and it showed.

The Sixers (36-30) lost, 101-98, to the Pacers (40-28) in one of their more intense matchups of the season. Tensions ran high as technical fouls were called, whistles were contested, and one player left the court injured. 

The Sixers entered the night only two games behind the Pacers in the standings. If the playoffs had begun Tuesday, the Sixers and Pacers would have been matched up in a 3-6 series. The Sixers could have closed the gap with a win that could have impacted the fight for home-court advantage. 

• The Pacers snapped the Sixers' impressive 13-game win streak at the Wells Fargo Center. They had not lost in Philadelphia since Dec. 21, 2017, against the Raptors. The arena was quiet as fans filed out. 

• Joel Embiid worked on his highlight reel, throwing down monster dunks. He led all players with a 29-point, 12-rebound double-double. He attempted (and missed) a game-tying three with six seconds left. 

• The Sixers didn’t do themselves any favors with 12 first-half turnovers. They committed a total of 21 in the game, giving up 29 points. Embiid accounted for eight of the errors. The Pacers, meanwhile, only committed 10 as a team. 

• The Sixers were prepared for Lance Stephenson (11 points, four rebounds, three assists) to be a spark plug for the second unit. 

“Lance coming off a bench is lightning in a bottle possibly,” Brett Brown said. 

They should have expected him to be feisty, too. That’s been his M.O. his entire career. Stephenson wasn’t shy to mix things up with the Sixers, including drawing a tech on Embiid. 

• The Pacers pulled off the win in spite of an off night from All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. He shot 4 for 21 from the field and scored only 11 points. 

• Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis suffered a left ankle sprain when Embiid was pushed by Trevor Booker under the basket and then landed on his ankle. Sabonis was helped off the court by his teammates, who were visibly bothered by how the injury occurred. 

• Brent Celek, Brian Westbrook and Freddie Mitchell were at the game sitting courtside near actor Michael B. Jordan.