PHILADELPHIA - A worrying trend is developing for the Philadelphia 76ers.
For the second game running, Ben Simmons and the Sixers wasted a promising first half performance, thanks to a disastrous third quarter.
The Indiana Pacers outscored Philadelphia 31-18 in the third quarter tonight, turning around a 59-49 deficit, enroute to the Sixers' second home defeat in three days.
Losing to the Pacers, who entered tonight’s game with an almost identical record, isn’t concerning in itself for Brett Brown and the Sixers. Jimmy Butler was missing his second consecutive game, so there are valid reasons why the Sixers may struggle against an Indiana team that holds the NBA’s second best defence.
The factors leading this defeat, however, are alarming because of the wider themes they illustrate. Their depth is being tested with Butler out and, over the past two games, they have failed to manage his absence.
Joel Embiid was utterly dominant tonight, as he finished with 40 points and 21 points. He is the first player this season to post 40 points and 20 rebounds in a single game, and only the fifth player to do so this decade.
Simmons started the game at his very best, employing his aggressive disposition and was a force on both ends. Offensively, he was noticeably searching for transition and attacking early in the shot clock. On the defensive end, he was fighting hard to get over the top of pick-and-rolls and really controlling the point of attack. This all changed after the half.
Simmons drifted in the second half. His impact was reduced and Indiana’s defence bunkered down against a tired-looking Embiid. When the Sixers' best two players ran out of steam, the team cratered and ultimately lost the second half 64-42.
Asked to explained the cause of Philadelphia’s second half woes, a blunt Ben Simmons highlighted that effort, more than anything else was the problem.
“They played harder than us,” Simmons said.
His head coach was more circumspect.
“I think the physicality got the better of us,” Brown said of the third quarter. “They are the second ranked defensive team in the NBA and we felt all of that, I thought that they were just more physical.
“I think that we tried to find production from different places and struggled. I thought JJ, Joel and Ben contributed, but we really struggled trying to find production in other places.”
Simmons, Embiid and J.J. Redick combined to score 80 of the Sixers' 101 points against the Pacers. The remainder of the roster could only generate 21 points on 8 of 32 shooting.
Two straight home defeats is problematic in a micro sense, but at a macro level, Philadelphia's inability to generate reliable minutes from the fringes of this roster is becoming problematic. The Sixers were unable to maintain their aggression against a deeper and more physical opponent tonight.
“I give credit to Indiana,” Brown added. “You really felt how physical they were and I think that Joel’s world changed in the second half. Joel was dominant in the first half and it was difficult getting him the ball [in the second half], when we did we had some turnovers trying to get him the ball.
“I think they did a really good job of fronting the post, trying to play in front of him or driving him out and the clock is evaporating, but in general, I think that the physicality is what I feel was most prevalent for me. I look forward to going back and seeing the tape, but that aspect of the game really stood out to me.
The Sixers will now head to Cleveland for a date with Matthew Dellavedova and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon.