The Sixers' road woes continue ... even at a neutral site.
Behind a ridiculous shooting night by T.J. Warren, the Pacers beat the Sixers, 127-121, at Visa Athletic Center in Disney World in the first seeding game for both teams.
Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) and Mike Scott (right knee soreness) were out for the Sixers. Domantas Sabonis (plantar faciitis) and Malcom Brogdon (cervical strain) were sidelined for the Pacers.
The loss drops the Sixers to 39-27 and puts them a full game behind Indiana for the East's fifth seed. They'll "host" the Spurs Monday night (8 p.m./NBCSP).
Embiid and Simmons connecting
We talk a lot about the fit of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but generally talent wins out in the NBA. All of the Sixers’ best minutes appeared to be when the All-Star duo was on the floor together.
Brett Brown mentioned that he thought Simmons’ move to the four could actually make the pair more dangerous and that seemed to be the case. Operating from the elbow, Simmons found Embiid a couple times in high-low action. You can also see how it could help Simmons as a scorer to essentially be a quick move away from the rim.
After Justin Holiday and Myles Turner got beat up early, the Pacers started sending a second defender to try to swipe the ball from the elbow and were more aggressive with double teams.
It was a mixed bag for a lot of the Sixers in the first game back, but the early returns on Embiid and Simmons were very good. Embiid was dominant, finishing with 41 points (15 of 23), 21 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes. Simmons had 19 points (8 of 14), 13 rebounds and four assists.
It was not a good start for Shake Milton as the team’s starting point guard. Milton was hounded full court by former Sixer T.J. McConnell and it led to a couple turnovers. It also led to Milton and Embiid having a fiery exchange on the sideline after the first quarter ended. In Milton’s defense, Embiid seemed to leave him out to dry with a couple lazy inbound passes, something we all know you can’t do with McConnell lurking.
Milton then picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half and was replaced by veteran Raul Neto. Milton went scoreless in 19 minutes. It was a bit out of character for Milton. The second-year guard's poise has proven to be one his strongest traits, but that wasn't the case on Saturday.
All night the Sixers struggled getting into their offense. Whether it was Milton, Josh Richardson or Alec Burks, the team looked discombobulated in the half court all night. Some Neto minutes in the second quarter seemed to calm things down for a moment. Neto’s stints seemed to coincide with the Sixers’ best ball movement on the night. He was a steady influence with zero turnovers in 21 minutes.
Harris picking up where he left off
Tobias Harris finished the Sixers’ last scrimmage against the Mavericks on a strong note and appeared to carry that over into the first seeding game. Harris was aggressive attacking every mismatch, of which he had many. The most encouraging thing we’ve seen Saturday and in the final scrimmage is Harris playing downhill, blowing by people off the dribble and finishing strong at the basket.
Part of the reason the Sixers acquired Harris is because of his ability to space the floor for Embiid and Simmons, but he was a perfect scoring complement to the two Saturday. Harris had 30 points (12 of 29) and eight rebounds.
What a night for Warren
The two biggest issues for the Sixers Saturday were turnovers and Warren. They had 14 first-half turnovers which led to 20 Indiana points. They did better in the second half with just seven, which helped them take the lead.
But Warren went nuts. Warren is a good offensive player, but it just seems like he hasn’t missed against the Sixers this season. He had 29 first-half points on his way to pouring in a career-high 53. The hoop must've looked like an ocean when Warren hit a dagger three late in the fourth quarter. As hot as he was, the Sixers didn't do a good job finding him defensively.
Plenty of questions in the rotation
The Sixers’ bench was seriously lacking in depth going into last year’s postseason. While Brown has more options, there aren’t many proven commodities.
The one proven player he does have is Al Horford, who struggled in his early run. He committed three turnovers and was a minus-17 in 13 minutes in the first half. He was much better in the second half, dunking on his first touch and knocking down a couple jumpers. His minutes with Embiid went OK, relatively speaking.
Furkan Korkmaz was 0 for 2 and had issues defensively in just seven first-half minutes. Korkmaz was cold from the field during the last two scrimmages as well. He finished 0 for 4.
Though Burks did have a few turnovers, he made three threes and did show a little of his shot creation ability the team sorely needs. Rookie Matisse Thybulle didn’t stand out in a positive or negative way.
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