Immediately after winning six consecutive games and surging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the Sixers have dropped four straight.
They fell to the Pacers on Saturday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, 118-113, and now sit at 8-6.
Tobias Harris recorded 32 points and 11 rebounds.
Tyrese Maxey couldn’t manage a third consecutive game of 30-plus points, but he still scored 24 on 10-for-15 shooting.
Indiana’s Justin Holiday scored 27 points off the bench on 9-for-11 shooting, while Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner totaled 38 points.
Isaiah Joe cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols and was available, but Sixers head coach Doc Rivers did not use the 22-year-old. Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle are still in the league’s protocols.
The Sixers will face the Jazz on Tuesday night in Utah. Here are observations on their loss to the Pacers:
Second unit, team defense poor in first half
The Pacers went on a 20-8 run after the Sixers took an early 10-4 lead. The Sixers allowed far too many transition opportunities, failing to stop the ball and also to scramble out to whoever was open.
A few Andre Drummond misses around the rim hurt, too. He’s an inelegant, inefficient finisher, one of the ways he’s an obvious downgrade compared to Embiid.
The Sixers’ bench began badly, laboring in half-court offense and struggling to halt Indiana’s momentum. Rivers’ decision to pair Maxey with Shake Milton did not generate the desired spark.
Before the Sixers’ second unit scored any points, Holiday had 16. Hard to believe. Sixers bench players started a combined 0 for 10.
Holiday catching fire was an important factor — Sabonis not missing until the third quarter helped, too — but the Pacers were superior to the Sixers in terms of pace and offensive fluidity. Indiana assisted on 20 of its first 22 made field goals, the Sixers just six of their first 16.
Another man down
Danny Green left the floor in the third quarter with left hamstring tightness and was ruled out for the night early in the fourth. He posted 14 points, four rebounds and three steals.
The 34-year-old also exited the Sixers’ Nov. 1 win over the Trail Blazers with left hamstring tightness, then sat out the team’s next three games. It would now make sense for the Sixers to exercise caution with Green and minimize the chances of this being a recurring or lingering issue moving forward.
If Thybulle was available, it would be easier to compensate for Green’s absence. The Sixers have been short on healthy bodies for a while, though. Having two days before their next game feels rather hollow as a silver lining, although perhaps the time off his feet will benefit Seth Curry (11 points on 3-for-10 shooting). He hasn’t looked 100 percent the last two games following a game out due to a left foot contusion.
While Rivers again had no choice but to lean on his key players, he did use a 10-man rotation, playing Charles Bassey at backup center over Paul Reed for four-second half minutes.
Milton closed in Green's spot. The Sixers didn't lose their self-belief and made a late push, cutting a deficit as high as 20 points down to five on a Maxey layup with 2:56 remaining. Even during their losing streak, the Sixers have shown impressive persistence.
However, the losses all still count, and the Sixers are largely at fault for digging themselves a big hole Saturday.
Very good signs for Harris
Harris made his first two three-pointers, stepping into a transition pull-up and sinking a wide-open jumper after the Indiana defense collapsed on Maxey. He also cut backdoor and hit a lefty layup off of a nice feed from Maxey.
Harris ended a stellar opening period with 17 points, finding success at all three levels. If not for him, the Sixers would’ve been down much more than 10 at the half.
In the big picture, it’s excellent for the Sixers that Harris is playing like a No. 1 option so soon after coming back from a breakthrough COVID-19 infection. The virus has had an unpredictable impact on returning players; some have felt fine, while others (like Curry last season) have been affected for months.
Even in the first half, one edge the Sixers had Saturday night was at the foul line. Harris took 10 of the Sixers' 29 free throws in the game, while the Pacers only attempted 15 as a team. Without one of the league’s top players at drawing fouls in Embiid, it’s important for Harris to consistently get to the line.