3 observations after Sixers' 8-game winning streak snapped by Pacers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers will need to wait a bit before declaring themselves the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
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They fell to the Pacers on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 103-94. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak and means the Sixers’ “magic number” to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East remains at one game.
The Sixers would’ve needed the Bucks and Nets to lose to seal the No. 1 seed Tuesday night. Brooklyn beat the Bulls.
Ben Simmons had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Tobias Harris recorded 27 points.
Joel Embiid (non-COVID illness), Matisse Thybulle (left hand soreness) and Furkan Korkmaz (right ankle sprain) were out for the Sixers. Shake Milton was also scratched late with right knee soreness.
Six Indiana players were sidelined by injuries, including Malcom Brogdon and Myles Turner.
The Sixers’ final three regular-season games will be Thursday against the Heat and a home mini-series on Friday and Sunday vs. the Magic.
Here are three observations on their loss to Indiana:
Do-it-all Simmons starts strong
Simmons was responsible for 15 of the Sixers’ first 21 points. He scored eight, found Harris for a fast-break layup and a dunk, and assisted on a Seth Curry three-pointer.
At his best, Simmons is quick, powerful, clever and a threat to do just about anything besides shoot jumpers. His eagerness to put his teammates in good positions is a very valuable quality for the Sixers, and he tends to be most dangerous as a passer when he’s driving aggressively.
Indiana continued not to give him an exaggerated cushion the way many teams do, which encouraged Simmons’ dribble penetration.
For those fixated on Simmons’ jumper — head coach Doc Rivers has made it clear time and time again that he’s not among that group — Simmons knocked two down Tuesday. He made a fadeaway 15-footer as the shot clock expired on a second-quarter possession and sunk another fadeaway in the fourth.
Though Harris and Curry were each sharp early, Simmons ran the show and made everything flow well for the Sixers’ offense in the first half.
Simmons was less of a central figure after halftime, and the Sixers were predictably worse. The Pacers climbed back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit to take the lead late in the third quarter.
Harris and the Sixers struggled to score late. Though Harris has been a good clutch scorer this season, the Sixers are obviously better when they can dump the ball into Embiid and let him dictate the offense.
Maxey plays well on unusual second unit
The Sixers played an eclectic bench unit in Indiana. Simmons shared the floor at the end of the first quarter with Tyrese Maxey and the Sixers’ 35-year-old trio of Dwight Howard, Anthony Tolliver and George Hill. Isaiah Joe replaced Simmons to start the second period.
Any Sixer you ask is thrilled to rave about Maxey’s potential, but he’s got plenty of tools in the present. As a rookie, he’s shown he can explode toward the rim and exhibit outstanding body control to finish over and around bigger defenders once he’s there. He also converted a mid-range jumper in the second quarter and continued to make smart decisions with the ball, mostly avoiding dangerous situations and potential turnovers.
His acceleration has been tremendous since Day 1, and he seems to be developing a better sense of how to take advantage when a defender falls a half-step behind. When Maxey presses the gas, he almost always reaches his desired destination.
Maxey finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting, three assists and two blocks. Fellow rookie Joe converted an important corner three early in the fourth quarter. The second-round pick should have a chance to compete for a rotation spot in his second season.
At this point, it appears probable that Maxey will play meaningful playoff minutes this year. The remaining question is whether he’ll have a regular role, but he looks ready to help if and when Rivers calls on him.
Trying to make do without Embiid
Mike Scott started in Embiid’s place and posted three points and four rebounds in 26 minutes.
Both Scott and Howard spent time on Domantas Sabonis, Neither of them minds a physical challenge, and the two tried to bump Sabonis from his comfort zone as much as possible. He still put up 16 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds, initiating the Pacers’ offense effectively from the top of the key and elbow.
In the playoffs, Scott and Tolliver likely won’t play barring injuries or other emergency circumstances. If they’re pressed into action, the Sixers will ask them to shoot when open and play like the veterans like they are. It would be best for all parties if guarding an All-Star doesn’t factor into the job description.
Howard played 21 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing seven rebounds. We'll see whether he's able to hold his own against stretch fives in the playoffs. There's greater pressure on him in those matchups to be excellent offensively as a finisher, screener and roller and rebounder.