By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Indiana 101, Philadelphia 98 – Box Score
If the NBA playoffs had tipped off Tuesday night, the Pacers and Sixers would have faced each other as the 3 vs. 6 matchup in the Eastern Conference. Unsurprisingly then, the Wells Fargo Center had a playoff atmosphere to it during the final regular meeting between the two teams. Everyone on hand recognized the terrific chance for Philadelphia to make a serious move up the standings, as the game was one of only three remaining for the Sixers against Eastern Conference playoff teams.
As we so often see from young teams though, the Sixers did not look quite ready for the “playoff stage”. Despite Robert Covington holding Indiana star Victor Oladipo to 11 points on 4-21 shooting, Philadelphia’s own miscues held them back from victory. The Sixers turned the ball over 21 times, with Joel Embiid himself nearly matching the turnover total of the entire Pacers team (8 for Joel compared to 9 for Indiana). Philadelphia also did a poor job on the defensive glass; Indiana had 14 offensive rebounds, including 5 by longtime Sixer Thad Young, still turning garbage into gold while wearing Pacers gold.
While his turnovers were crippling to the team’s chances, Embiid was still the team’s most reliable weapon on the evening, finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Thanks to Embiid’s 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Sixers were in a position to tie the game in the closing seconds. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the big man’s three-point attempt to send the game to overtime came up short.
Somewhat under the radar, Ben Simmons finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was Simmons’ seventh triple-double of the season, tying Magic Johnson for second-most ever by a rookie (no one is catching the 26 as a rookie by Oscar Robertson). Still, as impressive as that accomplishment is, you’d like to see more aggressiveness from your team’s lead ball handler. Simmons did not attempt a single shot in over 9 minutes of action in the fourth quarter and only had 2 free throw attempts on the game. I know the team is feeding Embiid down the stretch, but it would be nice for Philadelphia’s other young star to help carry the late-game burden.
A win would have pulled the Sixers within one game of Indiana in the standings; instead, they’re now three games back of the third seed, seemingly too wide a gap this late in the season. They’re also just a half-game up on Milwaukee for 7th place and a full game ahead of Miami for 8th. Yet, Tuesday night’s loss was remarkably the first for the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. Their next 5 games come against the Knicks, Nets, Hornets, Grizzlies, and Magic. I wouldn’t worry quite yet.