3 Observations as Sixers Clinch Home-Court Advantage Behind Another 40-Point Performance From Embiid

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By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers clinched home-court advantage in Round 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 133-120 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid put together another special performance, finishing with 41 points on 14-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 20 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. The performance guaranteed Embiid will average 30 points per game this season, marking the first time a center has achieved that feat since Moses Malone did it in 1982.

James Harden finished with 22 points and 14 assists. Every player in the Sixers' starting lineup scored at least 15 points. The team scored 30-plus points in three out of the four quarters against the heavily undermanned Pacers.

Indiana was without Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Ricky Rubio, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren, Goga Bitadze, Jalen Smith and Nate Hinton.

The Sixers were without Georges Niang (left knee patella tendinopathy), although head coach Doc Rivers mentioned before the game it was more of a precautionary measure. Niang played in a team-leading 76 games so far this season.

The Sixers wrap up the regular season with a home matchup against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night. Here are three observations from the win over the Pacers:

Embiid's dominance and the Paul Reed experience

The Sixers began the game with a concerted effort to get the ball to Embiid inside the paint. The big fella made three trips to the free-throw line in the first 89 seconds of action. The team's first-quarter offense centered around Embiid as the team took advantage of the weaker Indiana bigs. The offense gravitated away from Embiid in the second quarter, but he still went into halftime with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pacers briefly went to a zone defense in the first quarter in an effort to slow down the Sixers' offense. However, the Sixers uncharacteristically beat the zone relatively easily due to crisp ball movement and the play of Tobias Harris. He knocked down a pull-up shot from the mid-range and followed it up with a step-back three on the team's following possession. He was decisive and took advantage of mismatches when presented while generally playing within the rhythm of the offense.

Embiid picked things back up in the second half, scoring 24 second-half points and effectively dominating the action. He connected on both of his attempts from beyond the arc and got to his spots at will. When he starts getting into a rhythm like he did against the Pacers, it is nearly impossible to stop him.

The non-Embiid minutes have been a problem for the Sixers over the last couple seasons. Rivers, beginning in the loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, made the adjustment fans have been clamoring for. Paul Reed received the backup center minutes for the second consecutive game. He made an immediate impact, grabbing an offensive rebound and put-back on his first possession on the court.

Reed, despite at 6-foot-9 being a bit undersized for a center, has good length and athleticism. The disruptive defense and energy he provides played a major role in the Sixers being able to expand their lead with Embiid off the floor in a six-minute stretch from late in the first quarter to early in the second quarter. In his first stint off the bench against the Pacers, he scored eight points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed three rebounds (two offensive rebounds), recorded three steals and was a plus-six.

He briefly played again in the second half, and that stretch did not go as well as his stint in the first half. He did pick up another steal, setting his new career-high with four steals in a game.

The one big negative about Reed's performance was his foul trouble. He picked up five fouls in 11 minutes off the bench. However, the Sixers would only realistically be asking him to play around 10 minutes per game. His foul trouble, while it does need to get cleaned up a bit, should not be what holds Rivers back from playing him over DeAndre Jordan at backup center.

Green starts over Thybulle

Despite Matisse Thybulle being available against the Pacers, the Sixers went with Danny Green in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game. Green made an impact early on, knocking down a three and making a terrific hustle play by recording a steal practically from the floor and getting the ball to Embiid for a dunk.

Green played solid defense and knocked down his threes at a high clip. He scored 15 points and shot 4-of-10 from three-point range. He was very active defensively, finishing with three steals and a block. Getting Green to play the way he has the previous two games consistently would be huge for the Sixers heading into the playoffs.

Should the team continue starting Green over Thybulle heading into the playoffs? Yes. The starting lineup transforms with Green in it as long as he can continue to shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc. Surrounding Embiid with four shooters has always been a successful formula for the Sixers. Losing Thybulle's defense in the starting lineup hurts, but is more than made up for offensively with the way Green has been playing the past two games.

Sixers close things out in second half

There was a moment in the middle of the third quarter where things looked like they were about to begin to slip away for the Sixers. The Pacers cut it down to a five-point game after an Oshae Brissett three with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter. However, the Sixers responded with a late-clock, step-back three from Embiid and a nice driving layup from Harden to build the lead back up to 10 points, prompting an Indiana timeout with 3:46 left in the third.

The Sixers did a good job responding anytime Indiana thought they were going to get back into the game. The Pacers hung around and were down seven points with 32.2 seconds left in the third quarter, but a Tyrese Maxey step-back three brought the lead back to 10 points.

Maxey's improvement this season, especially as an outside shooter, has been fun to watch. He effectively added the step-back three to his arsenal and finished the game with 18 points (7-of-15 shooting, 2-of-6 from three) and five assists.

Harden also started getting into a groove in the second half. He did a good job setting Embiid up for easy scoring opportunities while also doing a solid job finishing around the basket. He has been struggling lately as a scorer, especially from beyond the arc (2-of-9 against the Pacers), but there were some flashes of the MVP version of Harden throughout the second half.

The Sixers did not truly pull away from the Pacers until midway through the fourth quarter. The team went on a 9-0 run to expand their lead to 17 points. The run was started by a three from Embiid and a four-point play from Green.

The Sixers were able to coast the rest of the game and come away with an easy win over the Pacers. With the win over the Pacers, the Sixers' chances at the third seed remain alive. The team can pass the Boston Celtics for the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Pistons and a Boston loss to the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night.

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