This had the makings of a low-scoring affair between two of the best defensive teams in the league.
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Instead, we got a thrilling shootout, as the Sixers outlasted the Pacers in a 119-116 win at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.
Ben Simmons' picked off an errant pass from T.J. Warren, led the fast break and dished it to Tobias Harris for a dunk to put the Sixers up 115-114 with 9.9 seconds left. This came after Harris made two costly mistakes - fouling Warren on a three and making a poor entry pass to Joel Embiid.
It was Simmons again who picked off the inbounds pass on the ensuing possession. Harris was fouled with 5.1 seconds left and converted both free throws. With the score at 119-116, it was Simmons yet again who thwarted Indiana's desperation attempt with a steal.
The Sixers stay perfect at home (9-0) and improve to 14-6 overall. They host the Jazz Monday night.
Here are observations from the win.
We all expect Embiid to come out aggressive, and he did so Saturday. Myles Turner was called for two quick fouls. Domantas Sabonis, who plays him tough, isn't quite strong enough to keep Embiid out of the paint and wound up fouling out with 1:54 left in the game. Indiana started the game by not doubling at all. As it went on, Nate McMillan began to do it more, but not enough as Embiid still finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
It was also a positive sign for the Sixers to see Simmons and Harris attacking the basket, though Simmons didn't shoot particularly well from the field.
Harris probably had a couple shots that he normally makes not go down early, but he was looking for his own shot. He came up big in the fourth with a couple timely buckets while the offense was stagnant. The pick-and-roll with Embiid is looking like it may be a go-to action for the Sixers. Harris had 14 of his 22 points in the fourth.
As for Simmons, this Pacers team is good but represents a favorable matchup for him with no ideal player to guard him. His finishing at the rim just needs to get better as he went just 4 of 13 from the field. He did have 13 assists.
Both Embiid and Simmons were looking for contact and drawing fouls. They combined to go 11 of 11 from the line in the first half. The difference in the game wound up being free throws, as the Sixers held a sizeable advantage, going 32 of 36 while the Pacers went 21 of 25.
Lots of offense
When the Sixers have played well this season, most of the time it's because of their defense. In the first half, their offense was humming. They were moving the ball and working it inside-out. As Embiid was getting double teamed, he was doing a decent job recognizing it and his teammates were making the Pacers pay.
The Sixers followed up one their finest quarters of the season in the first - in which they had just one team turnover (a shot clock violation) - with an abysmal second. After the Sixers won the first quarter 38-29, Indiana flipped the script and the teams went into the half tied at 65-65. Both teams shot the ball exceptionally well on the night.
The Pacers ran more pick-and-roll to start the second half and the Sixers didn't handle it particularly well to start the third. The duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Warren burned them all night as they went for a combined 57 points.
Coming into tonight's game, these were two of the best defensive teams in the NBA. You wouldn't have known that for most of this one.
But when it mattered, Simmons came up with two enormous defensive plays to seal the win.
Plenty of whistles
In the first quarter, Brown was hit with a technical after he disagreed with a call on Simmons defending Jeremy Lamb. In the second, Embiid was hit for a Flagrant 1 when he came down hard on Sabonis on a shot attempt underneath. Then in the third, Simmons was hit for a T.
In the case of Embiid's flagrant, it appeared to be the right call. As for the two techs, the whistles seemed to come awfully quick. Not sure what was said, but obviously the official did not take too kindly to it.
T.J. McConnell got a tribute video and got a nice applause from the Wells Fargo Center crowd. When he checked in for the first time in the first quarter, he immediately went over to Brown and gave him a hug.
On the court, it was an interesting matchup between McConnell and one of the players that replaced him, Raul Neto. McConnell had six points and three assists in his return to the Wells Fargo Center.
Ennis appreciation observation
What else can you say about the job James Ennis has done off the bench recently? Coming off a 20-point performance Friday night in New York, Ennis again gave the Sixers excellent minutes. He hit shots, made a couple plays off the dribble and played hard-nosed defense. He was in the game down the stretch along with the regular four starters. This looks like the guy that came up so huge in the Toronto series - maybe even better.
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