No star's offensive numbers declined whatsoever Monday night in Indiana.
Despite a 40-point, 16-assist performance from All-Star Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, the Sixers picked up a 147-143 win at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
James Harden had 14 points, 20 assists and nine rebounds. He slightly extended his advantage over Haliburton as the NBA's leader in assists per game.
Joel Embiid was the game's top scorer with 42 points. Tyrese Maxey had 24 for the Sixers, who were down Tobias Harris (left calf contusion) and P.J. Tucker (back spasms). Indiana was without Aaron Nesmith (left hip soreness).
The 42-22 Sixers will play the final contest of their five-game road trip Tuesday night against the Timberwolves. Here are observations on their win over the Pacers:
Early offense theme continues
De’Anthony Melton and Jalen McDaniels started in Harris and Tucker’s spots. For a third straight Sixers game, both teams had little problem scoring early on.
McDaniels built upon his positive fourth-quarter showing from Saturday’s comeback victory against the Bucks by posting seven points and five rebounds in the first quarter. That included two transition layups created simply by running the floor hard, accepting a guard’s pass, and capitalizing on the opportunity at the rim. The Sixers will presumably face a better opponent than the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, but effectively crashing the offensive glass, making timely cuts, and producing here and there in transition tends to be useful around star talent in any situation.
While Melton had a scoreless first quarter, Maxey enjoyed a hot start in the building where he made eight of the Sixers’ franchise record 23 three-pointers last season. Maxey scored 14 first-period points and hit 4 of his 5 three-point tries. T.J. McConnell bested him early on the other end of the floor, though. The former Sixer converted a driving layup on Maxey, and he then freed himself for another hoop inside on Indiana’s next possession by outfoxing the 22-year-old with clever footwork and fakes.
Danuel House Jr. cut the Pacers’ lead to 39-38 on a reverse layup with two seconds remaining in the first. Fittingly, Haliburton followed that up by draining a half-court shot, though he released it just after the first-quarter buzzer.
Harden and Haliburton high-level QBs
The game did not lose any pace or gain much defense once the second units became involved.
The Sixers played Harden with House, Shake Milton, Georges Niang and Paul Reed to begin the second quarter. Harden connected well with Reed on several plays, including a high-low that Reed finished off with a lefty layup. However, McConnell forced one of the Sixers’ 10 first-half turnovers when he stripped the ball from Reed on a fast break and jetted off the other way to set Bennedict Mathurin up for a lay-in.
At times, it seemed that every single possession could be reasonably categorized as transition. Both teams had tons of success playing Chip Kelly-esque hurry-up offenses. During a 55-second stretch in the second quarter, the Sixers and Pacers combined for six baskets and zero stops. That stint included Haliburton’s ninth assist (to Myles Turner on the short roll) and Harden’s 10th (to Maxey for a corner three). The defensive resistance clearly wasn’t very good, but Harden and Haliburton are tremendous quarterbacks who can pile up points for their teams against unsettled and lax defenses.
Thanks to Embiid, who got Turner into foul trouble early, the Sixers earned a major advantage on free throws in the first half. He was sharp attacking from the middle of the floor both on his own and as a roller. The six-time All-Star made all 11 of his foul shots in the first half, while Indiana went 6 for 9 as a team. Embiid was perfect at the foul line after halftime, too, raising his percentage this season to 85.6 with a 19-for-19 game. Two Embiid free throws with 7.7 seconds left in the second quarter put the Sixers up 78-76.
Naturally, Haliburton then sunk a jumper from around the Pacers logo — this time just before the buzzer — to give Indiana a one-point lead at the break. The Pacers shot 61.1 percent from the floor in the first half, the Sixers 61.0 percent.
Reed's road trip
In Reed’s last four outings, the Sixers have outscored the opposition by 49 points during his minutes. Of course, plus-minus shouldn’t be read as a deeply meaningful stat, especially over a few-game sample, and that number is generously boosted by Reed’s plus-26 Wednesday night in Miami. Reed was great in that game, though, and he’s been outstanding overall on this road trip.
On Monday, he helped the Sixers start another fourth quarter strongly with impactful work on both ends. Reed took a charge on Turner early in the fourth to draw the Indiana big man’s fifth foul, rejected a Chris Duarte layup, and played a key part in the Sixers’ improved defense in the final period. Reed excelled at his job offensively, too. He posted eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and made a solid play out of the short roll early in the fourth when he set a high ball screen for Harden and kicked the ball out to Melton, who drove in for a layup.
McDaniels (20 points, eight rebounds), Milton (15 points) and House were good in the second half, too. Though House can be frenetic on occasion, his decision-making was impressive Monday. About a minute after drilling a fourth-quarter three assisted by Milton, House pump faked a similar look, drove inside of the arc, and found Milton open on the wing for a long-range jumper. With just 13 seconds of playing time over the past two games, House recorded 10 points in Indiana on 4-for-5 shooting, four assists and no turnovers.
Immediately after Embiid checked back in, he hit a mid-range jumper to give the Sixers a 132-121 lead. The team had a couple of nervy moments in the final minutes with Indiana exerting heavy defensive pressure, but another win was essentially secure because of how well they began the fourth.