3 observations after Sixers’ winning streak ends with tight loss to Pacers

3 observations after Sixers’ winning streak ends with tight loss to Pacers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers are no longer streaking.

The Pacers split a two-game mini-series between the teams and ended the Sixers’ winning streak at eight Tuesday night, earning a 132-126 victory at Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers fell to 8-2 on the season despite a 39-point, 12-rebound, six-assist Joel Embiid performance.

De’Anthony Melton notched a season-high 30 points. Tyrese Maxey scored 27.

The 7-4 Pacers’ leading scorers were Tyrese Haliburton (33 points) and Obi Toppin (27 points).

Both the Sixers and Pacers are now 1-1 in East Group A of the NBA’s in-season tournament tournament. The Sixers’ third of four group-play games will be Friday night against the Hawks.

The Sixers’ Nicolas Batum (personal reasons) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib) were out. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said pregame that Oubre was “in good spirits” when he’d visited the 27-year-old wing Monday.

Embiid, who’d been listed as questionable with left hip soreness, hasn’t missed a game yet.

The Sixers will finish their second back-to-back of the season by playing the Celtics on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their loss to Indiana:

Haliburton the game’s brightest star in first half 

Instead of Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, or Maxey, who was fresh off a 50-point game, Tobias Harris scored the Sixers’ first eight points. He converted two transition layups, a post-up jumper and a dunk after Embiid spotted his cut down the middle of the lane.

The Sixers sensibly ran their opening play for Maxey, having him make an Iverson cut and then run a side pick-and-roll with Embiid, but he missed an open floater. While Maxey did not have Sunday night’s scoring magic, he did block an early Bruce Brown jumper from behind. As a 6-foot-2 guard, he’s now recorded at least one block in six consecutive games.

“He’s taken a big step (on defense), too,” Embiid said Sunday of Maxey. “Everybody’s looking at the offensive end and what he’s been able to add — shot-creating ability, playmaking — but I think defensively, he’s just competing. … That’s all we need from him. Just compete and we’ve got his back. He’s been great.”

Embiid was the hub of nearly every Sixers possession in the first period, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. He posted 14 points in the first and got eight of them at the foul line.

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Embiid was especially physical against Indiana’s big men, drawing two quick fouls on both Myles Turner and Jalen Smith. Isaiah Jackson then picked up four fouls in under 10 minutes of playing time. Embiid posted 14 points in the first and got eight of them on free throws.

The Pacers still controlled the game for most of the first half, building a lead as big as 60-48. One key factor was Indiana’s much-improved showing on the defensive glass. Two days after grabbing a whopping 23 offensive rebounds, the Sixers had a mere five.

Of course, Haliburton was the primary star. He was great in spearheading Indiana’s relentless pace, hitting 6 of 8 first-half threes, throwing creative jump passes and avoiding any turnovers.

Batum presumably would’ve helped the Sixers against Haliburton, but the 23-year-old is a sensational passer and excellent shooter regardless of who’s guarding him.

Melton the standout role player 

Robert Covington started in the spot Batum had filled Sunday. Covington, Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris Sr. and Danuel House Jr. all played between 16 and 27 minutes.

After a DNP on Sunday, Morris came into the Sixers’ rotation and had two points and three rebounds. Overall, the Sixers received little offensively from their fifth through 10th men.

Many of the Sixers’ role players look best scrambling around on defense, battling for offensive boards, and generally hustling in situations where their athleticism shines. Covington and House each had impressive blocks that fueled successful Sixers fast breaks. Beverley’s tight ball pressure on Haliburton early in the fourth quarter led to a backcourt violation.

Oubre and Batum’s absences were certainly impactful, though. Oubre has provided significant scoring and loads of confidence. Batum tends to help offenses run a touch smoother and make the common-sense pass, too. The Sixers struggled at times Tuesday to throw entry and high-low passes to Embiid, either hesitating in search of the right angle or simply missing the target.

Three-point volume was a collective issue, too; the Sixers often drove or passed in favor of semi-open threes. The team also wasn’t very accurate on the shots it did take, hitting 6 of 22 threes in the game.

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Melton had four of those makes, and his aggressive drives were valuable as well; Melton drew 10 free throws and made all of them. The 25-year-old perhaps would’ve played more than his 35 minutes if he hadn’t been called for his fifth foul with 0.8 seconds left in the third quarter.

Sixers second best in strange fourth

The Sixers faced a 13-point deficit early in the third after Nurse got called for a technical foul and Haliburton hit the subsequent foul shot.

They played with noticeably more snarl over the next couple of minutes, defending hard in an immediate 6-0 run. However, the Pacers retained their composure and summoned some timely answers, including two interior T.J. McConnell hoops late in the third quarter.

The Sixers kept plugging away and trailed by just a point entering the fourth. The game then halted and all the attention shifted to Harris, who was on the floor following an awkward play in which Bruce Brown appeared to leap and fall over the back of Harris’ neck.

Harris eventually rose to his feet, though he he subbed out because of concussion protocol. Indiana chose KJ Martin to shoot the free throws cold off the bench and Martin missed both.

A little over three minutes later (with Harris back in the game), the officials held an extended discussion and announced that their decision had been wrong. The Sixers were supposed to pick the replacement foul shooter. So, well after he should have, Maxey took two foul shots and knocked both down.

That bizarre sequence went right along with the chaotic complexion of the fourth quarter. The Sixers looked to be in a good spot after an Embiid jumper put them up 109-106, but Indiana responded strongly to the adversity. Embiid had a few important miscues in the fourth, including a missed dunk, a charge and a travel as he brought the ball up the floor.

Maxey couldn’t sink the clutch shots he had Sunday, and Nurse voiced his displeasure when no whistle blew on a missed Maxey floater with a little under three minutes to go. His team will have to get back to it Wednesday night and try for a second early-season win vs. Boston.

First appeared on sports.yahoo.com

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