When the Sixers needed him most, their "crown jewel" was ready to roll.
With Joel Embiid back in the lineup, they shook off a slow start and beat the Pacers, 106-89, at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday.
With the victory, the Sixers won the season series, which puts them in the third seed ahead of Indiana in the Eastern Conference with both teams having a 42-25 record.
Here are observations from the win.
• Embiid looked predictably rusty early on in his first game back after missing the last eight, but the All-Star center made a huge impact. One aspect of his game that was missed was his ability to draw fouls. He had both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, as both big men picked up their fourth foul early in the third quarter. Embiid was 11 of 15 from the line. On one play in the fourth quarter, he actually crossed up Turner on the wing and then drove and dunked on him - the knee looked OK on that one.
His absence was noticed most on the defensive end and in this one you could see why. On a play where he was switched onto Bojan Bogdanovic, Embiid showed no signs of his knee bothering him as he forced Bogdanovic into a contested layup that was missed. Without knowing 100 percent of what goes on in the Sixers' defensive rotations, it does look like Embiid communicates more than any player on the floor.
Embiid has little chance to win MVP, but if you were going to make a case, watch the Sixers' last two games and compare it to Sunday. Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are star-level players. Embiid is a notch above them all. He finished with 33 points (11 of 21) - 18 of them in the fourth quarter - and 12 rebounds, and his overall impact was even bigger.
Embiid did get a little fired up after what appeared to be a pretty bad call. Sabonis drove to the basket and Embiid took his weight off him, causing Sabonis to fall. The closest official called it a trip. Embiid was not pleased and was called for a technical.
• While Embiid's presence certainly helped on the defensive end, there are still plenty of issues. Jimmy Butler's on-the-ball defense was disappointing early as he let Bogdanovic, who isn't the fleetest of foot, blow right by him twice in the first half. Pacers coach Nate McMillan also did an excellent job exposing JJ Redick and T.J. McConnell on the defensive end. Indiana's quicker guards were able to get by them or they were able to get Redick and McConnell in favorable matchups with switches.
With that said, it was the Sixers' defense that got them back into the game after trailing at the half. While they only shot 27 percent in the third quarter themselves, they held Indiana to an abysmal 3 of 20 (15 percent). It was not an offensive clinic from either team, for sure, but the Sixers' help defense and communication in general looked much better.
• The Sixers have plenty of offensive talent, but their half court offense just looked stagnant in the first half. The ball movement wasn't crisp and there seemed to be too much dribbling and standing around.
While credit goes to the Pacers for their defensive play, these issues plagued the Sixers in Chicago and Houston as well. It's hard to blame it on newness or unfamiliarity among new players when we've seen them move the ball better in games with their new-look starting five.
As mentioned, the third quarter wasn't a whole lot better, but it was encouraging to see them get going when it mattered in the fourth. The Sixers just dominated in the second half overall. It was an impressive win over a good team.
• There's been a vast improvement in Ben Simmons' post game this season and lately, Brett Brown has been looking to use Simmons more there.
But overall his last couple games, Simmons hasn't been looking to score as much on the block. When he's gotten open looks, he just hasn't been able to convert.
Simmons does continue to be special in transition and took care of the basketball much better in this one, finishing with just one turnover. While Simmons didn't exactly star in thise one, he was quietly solid, with 15 points, six assists and four rebounds.
• Mike Scott and James Ennis had eight points each and gave the Sixers a nice boost.
It appears for now that Ennis is in the lead in the "tournament" with Jonathon Simmons. Ennis brings at least a little something on offense, whereas Simmons is a good defender but has struggled offensively. Ennis has more size and has been much more impactful overall.
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