In today's newsletter:
- Thoughts on last night's 131-122 win.
- The stat that mattered (3-point shooting)
- Where things stand (breaking down the tiebreakers).
- Link roundup
There was a lot going on in last night's 131-122 win over the Pacers, even if most of it needs to be kept in the proper context. The Pacers downright stink defensively, with their 115.1 defensive rating coming in as the third worst in the league, right between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings. The trade deadline activity – bringing in Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton – has only amplified their defensive struggles, with a pair of perimeter defenders that are easy to exploit and having to play without Myles Tuner to help cover some of that up. The Pacers are giving up 120.5 points per 100 possessions since Turner went down in mid-January, the worst rating in the league over that span.
With that disclaimer out of the way, it was an absolutely exhilarating first-half performance from the Sixers, as they dropped 82 points in the first 24 minutes of play, opening up a 23-point lead at the break. Joel Embiid had 27 first-half points by himself (despite having just three free-throws at the time), with Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris each getting all of their first-half points from beyond the 3-point line – Harris with 12 on 4-5 shooting from deep, Maxey with 21 on 7-9. Maxey's shooting was particularly absurd, with catch-and-shoots and multiple step-backs as he set a new career-high in made 3-pointers before the halftime break.
For two players who, at various times throughout this season had more than a bit of hesitation in their shot, I almost don't care the level of competition they do this against. Just taking the shots in the first place is a significant step in the right direction, and a key for an offense that has to be lights out if this team is to make a deep playoff run.
The Sixers let their foot off the gas in the second half and the Pacers cut the lead all the way down to four early on in the fourth quarter. The comeback was "highlighted" by a disastrous five minute stretch when Embiid was on the bench, but truth be told the Sixers were playing sloppy in the third even while Embiid was on the floor. But after DeAndre Jordan was ejected for committing a flagrant 2 a few minutes into the fourth, Embiid came back in and the Sixers re-took control of the game, pulling out a win that was at times impressive, at others infuriating, but necessary all the same, allowing the Sixers to keep pace with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with all three teams tied at 49-30 with three games left to play.
The stat that mattered