Familiar themes haunt Sixers in crushing loss to Pacers

Familiar themes haunt Sixers in crushing loss to Pacers


Three-point shooting. Late-game miscues. Struggles on the road.

These three things have been themes for the Sixers this season and they all played a part Monday in a 101-95 loss to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

For the second straight game, the Sixers held a nine-point lead at halftime but couldn't build on it in the third quarter.

Their sixth straight road loss drops them to 7-14 away from the Wells Fargo Center and 25-16 overall. They return home Wednesday to host the Brooklyn Nets.

Here are observations from the loss:

Another uneven effort from Simmons

After an impressive first half on both ends in Dallas Saturday, Simmons disappeared in the second, going scoreless as the Mavericks steamrolled the Sixers.

It was a similar issue Monday. 

He was nearly unstoppable in the first half, driving by the likes of Malcolm Brogdon and finishing physically at the rim.

This drive could very well have been the most impressive one of Simmons’ career.

He had a game-high 20 points (9 of 11) at halftime. He was getting anywhere he wanted on the floor.

And of course, what would a Sixers game be this year without a mention of Simmons’ defense? The NBA leader in steals came up with this one late in the first half. Jeremy Lamb made a business decision on the other end.

He went just 1 of 4 for four points in the third, though this drive was a beaut.

Simmons failed to score in the fourth, finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and three assists.

Better late than never for J-Rich

After being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier in the afternoon, Josh Richardson just couldn’t quite get it going through the first three quarters. He was just 2 of 10 from the field and 0 of 5 from three.

With the Sixers locked in a tight one, Richardson came up with a few huge buckets down the stretch. He had 17 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including this ridiculous three with the shot clock winding down.

It appears Brown has found something using Richardson in the pick-and-roll. He continues to also excel in the midrange. Unfortunately for the Sixers, they couldn’t get good looks when the Pacers keyed in on Richardson in the guts of the game.

Defense shows up

The first was one of the better defensive halves the Sixers have played this season. They held the Pacers to 34.1 percent from the field and made everything difficult on Indiana.

Al Horford was especially good in the pick-and-roll. They’ve changed up their coverage when Horford plays the five. When Embiid plays, he’ll drop in coverage on pick-and-rolls. Brett Brown has made an adjustment with Horford, allowing the veteran big to come up and corral. It’s led to much better results.

Their help and rotations were sharp. They rebounded well. It was a strong effort for most of the game.

The second half wasn’t as strong, but just like in Dallas, the Sixers didn’t take advantage of their opportunities to bust the game open on the offensive end and that seemed to leak over into their defense.

More struggles from three

The Sixers went just 9 of 37 from three against the Mavericks and it took a hot shooting fourth quarter just to get there. Those shooting woes continued in Indiana.

They went just 3 of 16 in the first half and 4 of 26 through three quarters. They finished 6 of 33. It felt like they had plenty of opportunities to hit dagger threes to extend several leads but failed to do so.

The Sixers need shooting. The trade deadline is Feb. 6.

Peculiar rotation

James Ennis didn’t get off the bench Monday night. He wasn’t listed on the injury report and there was no word at the time of this post. It was a little peculiar to see Ennis out of the rotation.

Rookie Matisse Thybulle was probably the Sixers' most effective reserve. He’d been 0 for 11 since returning from his right knee injury. He broke that with a nice a lob from Simmons, but was just 1 of 5 from three. He had four rebounds, a steal and a block.

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'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

On the surface, Steve Nash and Ben Simmons don’t have a ton in common. 

Nash, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, shot 42.8 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the foul line in his NBA career. Simmons’ shooting is not a strength.

However, the two chatted Saturday night at Madison Square Garden after Simmons’ 21-point, eight-assist performance in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks (see observations).

Simmons told reporters he talked with Nash, a co-owner of the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC, about soccer.

“He was such a great leader, a competitive spirit,” Simmons said. “Just watching highlights and some of his games, the way he played, he was just relentless. He played through anything." 

Nash sees a lot to admire in Simmons’ game, too. He said he thinks Simmons is worthy of being an All-Star for the second straight season.

Ben’s a generational talent. Crazy athlete, can play multiple positions on offense and defense. Obviously his glaring weakness is the shooting, but he’s so gifted that he can make up for it in other ways, and it’s about finding a way for him to be at his best for this group. And that’s a challenge for this club, is how do all the pieces fit together? Ben’s ability at both ends of the floor is unique and he’s a special, special player. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him to become a reliable shooter at some stage in his career, but he still does so many things at both ends of the floor that if you could find a way as an organization to promote that, you have an incredible, incredible piece. That is a huge challenge — how do all the pieces fit? … I think it’s something that Brett [Brown] and everyone are working through every day. It’s a gift and a curse.

Though his game isn’t much like Nash’s, Simmons said he can still take a lot from the 2004-05 NBA MVP. 

“He’s a legend, so definitely,” Simmons said. “I definitely want to talk to him and pick up things.”

Nash was asked whether Simmons can keep going as an infrequent jump shooter. 

“He can, in the right environment,” Nash said. “If he can figure out how to make some shots in some parts of the court, it can change everything. … He can do so many things. He can change positions four or five times in a game. That in itself is huge. So, how do you absorb that? That’s the challenge. Like I said, it’s a gift and a curse, and they’ll have to figure that out.”

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Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

There are probably quite a few people that would like to be Ben Simmons.

Tobias Harris took that a step further before the Sixers game Saturday night against the Knicks, rocking Simmons' expensive looking neckwear.

The Sixers sweated out a win and snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday (see observations). Harris had a rough night, going 5 of 13 overall, but he did hit a huge three with 28.2 seconds left off a Simmons’ inbounds pass to give the Sixers a two-point lead.

“I was just trying to get it in,” Simmons told reporters postgame. “I don’t think we had any timeouts left, so I’m glad he came to the ball and put up a great shot. He made it look good.”

The chemistry between the two seems to be paying off on the court.

“He’s locked in,” Simmons said. “He’s been aggressive taking shots. We want him to keep shooting the ball and taking those open looks. He’s a great player."

Postgame, Harris went back into Simmons mode.

The team also had a little fun with Harris’ “Fresh Prince” impersonation.

Simmons had a big night, posting 20 points for the fourth straight game — the first time in his career he's done so. The duo of Harris and Simmons also combined for the biggest defensive play of the game, trapping Julius Randle and causing a turnover with 7.6 seconds left.

Even though Harris accidentally gave Simmons a smack in the face in his haste while celebrating.

The Sixers have won three games in a row and it looks like they’re having fun again.

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