Instant Observations: Sixers Defeat Pacers in Defense-Optional Shootout

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) defends in the second quarter at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There certainly was no shortage of offense in this game. The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Indiana Pacers 147-143 on Monday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Both teams shot the lights out, with the Sixers shooting 58.5% from the field and the Pacers shooting 58.9%.

The Sixers were led by Joel Embiid, who finished with 42 points on 11-of-16 shooting. James Harden nearly tallied another triple-double, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds and 20 assists. Tyrese Maxey added in 24 points. The Sixers played without Tobias Harris (left calf contusion) and P.J. Tucker (back spasms).

The Pacers were without Kendall Brown (right tibia stress fracture) and Aaron Nesmith (left hip soreness). Tyrese Haliburton led the Pacers with 40 points and 16 rebounds.

The Sixers wrap up their five-game road trip with a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday. Here are some instant observations from the win:

– With Harris and Tucker both out of the lineup, head coach Doc Rivers chose to stick De’Anthony Melton and Jalen McDaniels into the starting five. The Sixers have not often utilized 3-guard lineups, and when they have the results have been inconsistent. However, their play, at least offensively, was as good as can be. They can find success attacking the paint, as Embiid did by drawing two quick fouls on Myles Turner, or from spreading the ball around the perimeter.

Maxey went on a heater in the opening quarter, scoring 14 points while knocking down four of his five attempts from long distance. Having him back in the starting lineup provides such a breath of fresh air. He has been on fire over the team’s previous four games, and that continued over into this game against the Pacers. Despite the Sixers scoring 38 points in the opening frame, they went into the second quarter down 39-38. More on the team’s lack of defense to come below …

– McDaniels made his first start in a Sixers uniform, and generated an immediate impact. He grabbed offensive rebounds on the Sixers’ opening two possessions, both resulting in second-chance points. For a team that struggles to consistently rebound, McDaniels’ plus rebounding ability is going to make a major difference.

McDaniels also has the athleticism and desire to run the floor, leading to easy looks in transition. Without having any plays drawn up for him, he is able to get himself involved offensively. It is important to surround Harden and Embiid, two ball-dominant stars, with those kinds of players. The lone negative from his performance was committing five fouls. After watching him play against the Pacers, it is easy to realize why the Sixers traded for him at the trade deadline. The combination of his athleticism, rebounding and defense totals up to him being a very valuable player for the Sixers. He finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.

– Harden’s passing ability can never be understated. He has a commanding presence of the floor, and makes multiple high-difficulty passes every game. It took him less than one half of basketball against the Pacers to record a double-double. How many players in the league are capable of passing open a player like he did below:

Against the Bucks, he dominated as a scorer. Against the Pacers, his shot was not in rhythm although he dished out 20 assists.

– Where was the defense? Neither team showed up on that end of the floor. The two teams scored a combined 157 points in the first half. At halftime, the Sixers were shooting 61% from the field while the Pacers were shooting 61.1%. The Pacers are not a good defensive team, but the Sixers came into the game inside the top five in the league in defensive rating. People who watched this game would not have been able to tell that as the Sixers’ defense could best be compared to a turnstile.

The Sixers’ ability to navigate around screens proved to be non-existent. The Pacers were able to get to the rim with ease, scoring 46 points in the paint in the first half. Embiid, usually a dominant defender around the basket, played with little to no intensity defensively for much of the night. Haliburton carved them up, using simple ball fakes to get himself wide open looks he cashed in on from beyond the arc. The Sixers’ lack of defensive effort gave the impression they thought they would be able to walk into Indiana and automatically get the win.

Their defense was not much better in the second half, although in the end they did just enough offensively to get the win. However, they were incredibly fortunate to still come away with a win despite giving up 143 points. If they are to compete deep into the postseason, they have to clean things up defensively and play with much more consistency.

– Turner is a very good defensive center for the Pacers. However, Embiid continues to absolutely dominate him whenever they match up. Embiid drew two fouls on Turner within the first three minutes of the game. Fast forward to the 9:21 mark of the third quarter and Turner is once again checking out of the game after fouling Embiid. It was his fourth foul of the game in just his ninth minute of action. Turner went on to foul out in just 17 minutes.

When Embiid is consistently looking to attack downhill and assert himself physically, there is nobody capable of stopping him. Whether it was in the mid-range, in the paint or at the free-throw line, he scored points at ease against the Pacers.

Speaking of centers, Paul Reed is further cementing himself as the Sixers’ backup center with each passing game. On a night where defense was nearly impossible to come by, Reed made a handful of good plays defending around the rim. The highlight of his night came when he demolished Chris Duarte’s layup attempt in the fourth quarter. He is playing with more discipline defensively, with everything starting to click for him. The 23-year-old still needs to prove he can produce when the games count in the playoffs, but the last few games have been very encouraging. He finished with eight points, four rebounds, an assist, a steal and three blocks in 11 minutes. To think Montrezl Harrell was ever getting minutes over Reed. Fans should be happy to see those days in the rearview mirror.

– The Sixers are receiving great production from the second unit. Danuel House Jr, after being out of the team’s rotation for the last month or two, is taking advantage of getting another crack at some minutes. He was excellent against the Pacers, taking advantage of open looks when available and playing solid defense. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with four assists.

With the game tied at 114 to begin the fourth quarter, the Sixers had the Harden-led bench unit out on the floor. For the second consecutive game, this unit generated some separation in a close game. In the first 5:29 of the quarter, this lineup outscored the Pacers 16-6. It proved to be the decisive run of the game. The Sixers held onto the lead for the remainder of the contest.

Having Harden leading a unit with the athletic trio of McDaniels, House Jr and Reed is generating good results. The offense can be questionable at times, but this unit has proven to have the ability to be a menace defensively. Having bench players with athleticism opens up so many options for the Sixers and is an exciting thing to watch.