By Andrew Curran (@andrewjc417)
Philadelphia 109, Indiana 105 (OT) – Box Score
Watching this game with ice packs on my cheeks, tears of agony from wisdom teeth removal turned into tears of long awaited joy, then back to misery, and finally, for good, back to joy. In the second matchup of a home-and-home series, the 76ers topped the Pacers in overtime for their first win of the regular season, and first win in the month of November in three years. There are so many things to take away from this game, but this win is a direct result of the Sixers’ resilience above all else.
The Sixers didn’t have an awful first quarter. Jeff Teague (13 points) was able to slice and dice his way through the Sixers guards, mainly Sergio Rodriguez and Gerald Henderson. This caused some problems for the Sixers defensively, allowing the Pacers to shoot above 50% for a good portion of the first half. But El Chacho (9 assists) redeemed himself with the beautiful passes that we have grown accustomed to seeing, including a thrilling alley-oop for Henderson which closely resembled the first points of the season for the Sixers, if you remember that game which feels oh so long ago.
Joel Embiid picked up a pair of fouls early, forcing Brett Brown to take Jahlil Okafor out of storage. Having hoped to rest him entirely in the first game of a back-to-back, Jah had a few pretty unspectacular minutes for the Sixers before he sat for the rest of the night in favor of Richaun Holmes.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Richaun Holmes (8 points, 12 rebounds) is legit. He fights every second he’s on the court. While undersized, he scrapped for 12 rebounds, with 4 coming on the offensive end. He reminds me so much of Henry Sims a few years ago, but with more talent and explosiveness. Holmes will go a few games in a row without playing, then is ready when he is needed for major minutes, and he does not complain.
We saw, in typical Sixers fashion, the inability to finish and start quarters in the end of the first frame heading into the second. Even with Paul George missing a solid 10 minutes with a reportedly sprained thumb, the Sixers were not able to take advantage. Embiid started slow. In addition to his early fouls, he struggled on iso plays where it was just him and his defender. He did manage a few impressive passes, the best being a quick pass from above the elbow to a cutting Saric along the baseline for a Hinkie-to-Hinkie dunk.
I have been as hard as anybody on Nik Stauskas. I even wanted the Sixers to keep Brandon Paul over him. But Nik (14 points) has continued to prove me wrong, and we need to give him credit. He had at least 5 powerful drives from the wing this game, all of which went for a hoop or a trip to the line. And he also knocked down 2 of his 4 attempts from deep. One of those triples in the second half gave the Sixers their largest lead of the night at 7. So far, Sauce looks like a totally different player from last season, and his confidence is building.
At first, it appeared Sergio was stuck in his shooting slump, but he managed to get partially out of his funk by the middle of the second quarter. The Sixers had an impressive 12-4 run during the last 3:15 of the half, where Embiid and Sergio started to find their strokes from mid-range. The boys trailed by one at the half.
Dario Saric’s peskiness on defense is really great to see. Right out of the gate on the first possession of the second half, he had a steal off Jeff Teague. Robert Covington had another rough night shooting the ball, but good defense and a well-timed three ball to give the Sixers the lead helped make up for it.
The 76ers started the fourth quarter up by 4 points. Ersan Ilyasova (14 points, 11 rebounds) continues to give opponents nightmares when he is given time and room, hitting 3 of his 5 three point shots. Embiid bit a few times down low, especially on some textbook post moves by Al Jefferson. Up until this point, Joel was having an OK game. But what really sets great players apart from good players in the NBA is the ability to turn on the heat in crunch time even when the game hasn’t gone great.
In the final 10 minutes, Embiid (career-high 25 points, 7 rebounds) was inarguably dominant. He bullied his way inside, no matter who the Pacers threw at him. He continued to show his mid-range ability, and forced defenders to respect his outside shot. And finally, with about 4 minutes left, Embiid hit the go-ahead three to put the Sixers up 1. Fans rejoiced, along with Embiid, who has waited oh so long to win an NBA game.
Being the Sixers, of course this win wasn’t going to come easy. Where’s the fun in that? The Pacers scored 5 points in 22 seconds to force OT. At this point, my emotions were running wild, my game notes would have to wait, and I really needed a painkiller for my teeth, but I was not leaving that couch. I’ve sat through 3 years of pain, what’s 10 more minutes?
Brett Brown made the rather difficult call of putting in Holmes to start the overtime period. As much as I love Richaun, I really thought this was Embiid’s game to win for his city, and he should have played the whole time, but it all worked out in the end. Joel continued his strong play upon his return with 2 minutes remaining, and went on to ice the game for the Sixers with a pair of free throws.
What was really interesting this game were the fouls that the refs gave Embiid. At times, it seemed like Joel was getting some calls that we have not seen other Sixers get in the previous years. He didn’t get calls like James Harden does, but it looks like the league officials are really recognizing his talents, and giving him some “superstar” whistles. Whether this is true or not, Embiid was very good at getting to the line (12-14 FT), and caused Myles Turner to foul out of the game, and made Jefferson play cautiously with 4 personal fouls.
Speaking of Turner and Jefferson, the past two games have really shown how much better Embiid is than Okafor defensively. Turner and Jefferson scored 15 and 18 points respectively the other night against Okafor, but just 5 and 10 matched up against Embiid. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jah is a crucial part of the franchise’s future, but this is simply a testament to how good Joel Embiid can be.
When the dust settled, the 76ers walked away winners for the first time this year. It may have took them 8 games, but it happened a lot sooner than last year. It’s important to keep in mind that the Sixers are playing some entertaining basketball without both Simmons and Bayless (and Noel if you’re still on that train), along with Embiid and Okafor on minutes restrictions. Stay excited Philly fans, we’re almost there.