The 76ers, despite a 41-point, 21-rebound effort from Joel Embiid, began their seeding games with a 127-121 loss to the Indiana Pacers at the Visa Athletic Center in Disney World. TJ Warren dropped a career-high 53 points on 20-0f-29 shooting to push the Pacers past Philadelphia. The loss gives the Pacers control over the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference due to them winning the season series.
In addition to Embiid's dominant night, Tobias Harris added in 30 points and eight rebounds while Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. However, the work of the 76ers' superstar trio was not enough to compete with Warren's 53-point performance.
The 76ers struggled to maintain consistency on either end of the floor on Saturday. In the first quarter, they allowed Indiana to go on a 17-0 run headlined by 19 points from Warren. The 76ers committed eight turnovers in the first quarter and found themselves down 35-29 heading into the second quarter of action. In between quarters, Embiid and Shake Milton had to be separated during an argument near the bench.
After the game, Embiid downplayed the incident and had this to say:
“It’s basketball. Everybody makes mistakes. It happens. We’ve gotta communicate better. As players, it happens everywhere. … You discuss what’s going on and you move on, you find a solution. But it’s nothing. It happens. It happens on every team and you just figure it out and you move on, and I’m sure everybody’s going to be better moving forward.”
Things were beginning to unravel for the 76ers on both ends of the floor, whether it was being unable to stop Warren or struggling to control the basketball on offense (eight turnovers in the first quarter).
However, throughout the second and third quarters, the 76ers made some adjustments to slow the game down which resulted in a momentum swing. Milton, who was struggling in his first game in the new-look starting lineup, was taken out of the game and replaced at the point by Raul Neto. It was an interesting decision which paid off. Neto provided a calming presence as he slowed the pace, resulting in cleaner opportunities for the 76ers. He finished with two points, two rebounds and three assists while being a plus-14 in 20 minutes off the bench.
The 76ers outscored Indiana 32-20 in the third quarter and continued their momentum into the fourth quarter. Their lead swelled to 10, but then things went off the rails. Warren, who was kept mostly quiet in the third quarter, exploded again and powered Indiana back into the lead.
Myles Turner made a high-arching 3 from the corner to give Indiana a 110-107 lead with 4:34 remaining. Indiana would hold the lead for the remainder of the game, but the 76ers did stay within striking distance down to the final seconds. Harris made a 3 with 30 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game, but Warren responded with a dagger 3 from deep 3-point range to seal the game for Indiana.
Warren, who went for a career-high 53 points, proved to be the thorn in the 76ers' side on Saturday from the opening quarter, where he scored 19 points, to the final dagger 3. The 76ers failed to adjust defensively, often giving Warren some space around the 3-point line (where he shot 9-of-12) that he used to punish Philadelphia.
“Give him credit; he was hot,” Harris said. “But too many times, we guarded him like he wasn’t on fire. We gave him too much space, just not enough credit for his ability to score. He punished us tonight from the beginning of the game on.”
Simmons, one of the NBA's top defenders, had arguably his worst defensive game of the season. According to NBA.com's matchup data, Warren shot 9-of-10 from the field and 5-of-5 from 3-point range for 24 points when guarded by Simmons.
The 76ers on Saturday were plagued by poor efficiency and an inability to play consistent defense. The Pacers were without two of their top starters, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, and yet they still put up 127 points on what has been touted as a stout 76ers defense. Offensively, Philadelphia finished with more turnovers (21) than assists (20), something which vastly limited their offense throughout the night.
Philadelphia's offense was top-heavy against Indiana. Outside of Embiid, Simmons and Harris, the 76ers scored a meager 31 points. Josh Richardson was a complete non-factor (four points, three turnovers, minus-9), while Milton struggled to get anything going offensively. The 76ers' starting backcourt combined for four points on 2-of-5 shooting to go with four assists and six turnovers.
The 76ers' bench unit, outside of a few positives, underperformed as well. Rookie Matisse Thybulle was a non-factor. Furkan Korkmaz missed all four of his shots and was a minus-8 in 14 minutes. Alec Burks, while providing a scoring spark (nine points), got hit with the turnover bug, committing four turnovers in 12 minutes off the bench.
The 76ers, for a multitude of reasons, did not deserve to win on Saturday night. The attention now turns to Monday night, when the 76ers match up against the San Antonio Spurs at 8 p.m.
“It’s the first game of the new starting lineup,” Embiid said. “We’ve all got seven more games to try to find a balance and use it better and have it fit together. I’m sure we’re going to do that. I don’t think there’s any problems. So we’ve just gotta come together. Myself, I’m going to do whatever I can to make it happen — just being dominant down low and passing, trying to make sure I help my teammates by spacing out and giving guys space to do their thing. I think we’ve just got to find a balance and just find our rhythm."