The show had to go on for the Sixers.
However, the unusual circumstances for the team’s Sunday night meeting with the Pacers certainly warrant a mention before diving into what turned out to be a very memorable game; Kelly Oubre Jr. was at home because he’d been hit by a car the night before and suffered a fractured rib.
Without Oubre, the Sixers earned a 137-126 victory to extend their winning streak to eight games, improving to 6-0 at Wells Fargo Center and 8-1 overall.
A bigger deal than that: Tyrese Maxey set a new career high with 50 points on 20-for-32 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks in a truly special performance.
Maxey's prior career high had been a 44-point outing last October against the Raptors. Nurse lost that game in Toronto.
“It’s a lot more fun being on this side of it," Nurse said.
Joel Embiid posted 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton had 25 points and 17 assists.
The Sixers will host the Pacers again on Tuesday night. Here are observations on their Maxey-led victory Sunday:
Early pick-and-roll perfection
The Sixers’ first few minutes played out almost exactly like the early stages of the third quarter did in their Monday night win over the Wizards.
That meant empty-side Maxey-Embiid pick-and-rolls from the left wing over and over again — five consecutive half-court possessions, to be precise. The Sixers scored on every one, decisively winning the 2-on-2 game between their best players and Indiana’s Bruce Brown and Myles Turner. Maxey missed a floater on the fifth play, but Embiid cleaned things up with a put-back layup.
Embiid obviously wanted to attack the matchup against Turner, as he often has to great effect. He scored 19 very efficient points Sunday in the first quarter, shooting 6 for 8 from the field and 7 for 8 at the foul line.
Embiid and the Sixers were far better from the jump than they’d been Friday night in Detroit. After trailing that game by 12 points through a quarter, the Sixers led the Pacers by 11 following the first.
Maxey catches fire, McConnell does his thing
Nicolas Batum started in Oubre’s spot.
Although Batum won’t replace all of Oubre’s scoring, he seems completely capable of assuming that role both in terms of his unperturbed veteran’s disposition and his versatile game.
Batum drew the challenging defensive assignment of Haliburton, Indiana’s All-Star lead guard. The Sixers also switched often, which they’ve generally felt comfortable doing under Nurse. Batum assisted in setting the right tone for the Sixers’ transition defense against the high-paced Pacers, sprinting back to block a Bennedict Mathurin layup. He later picked up a steal when he cleverly poked the ball away as backup Indiana big man Jalen Smith began to post up.
Furkan Korkmaz and Danuel House Jr. each entered the Sixers’ new 10-man rotation. Nurse was pleased with how the team's wings played without Oubre.
“Nic’s certainly a really good player, right? Really good in so many areas,” Nurse said. “Using (Robert) Covington in his early stint, that’s probably where he’s going to stay for a while. Solid job. I thought Furk and House did a good job. I think the combination of House, (Patrick Beverley) and Paul Reed really put some toughness into the game.
“They chased down a bunch of loose balls and made a bunch of plays. It was nice to see that. That’s what we would say those guys’ roles (are). Just go out there, play really hard, come up with every 50-50 ball, get us a couple of put-backs and guard really tough. They did a heck of a job together, that trio.”
Ultimately, the team's Embiid-less minutes in the first half were all about Maxey.
The 23-year-old was tremendous early in the second quarter, mixing swift drives with deep jumpers and confident, sharp decisions every time down. After Maxey made back-to-back three-pointers and scored a fast-break layup, the Sixers held a 55-36 lead. At that point, Maxey and Embiid alone were outscoring the Pacers.
Indiana soon turned the tide, however, and T.J. McConnell was integral.
McConnell provided his perpetual energy and exerted heavier ball pressure on Maxey, who finally started missing. He also drove by former Sixers teammate Covington for a layup, beat Embiid out for a loose ball and nabbed a backcourt steal. McConnell's short jumper on the Pacers’ final second-quarter possession cut Indiana’s deficit to 69-60.
Total offensive rebounding dominance
The Pacers’ offense accelerated even further to open the third quarter. They posted 39 points in the period and trailed by just one going into the fourth.
After Embiid committed a casual turnover flinging an outlet pass toward Maxey, Haliburton nailed a three. Haliburton expertly orchestrated Indiana’s half-court offense, creating favorable switches, drawing help defense and starting crisp drive-and-kick sequences. The Pacers always appeared dangerous in transition, too.
“Worrying about it didn’t help,” Nurse said with a laugh. “Again, it’s the way they’re playing, you know it’s coming, and it’s unique. A lot of teams are playing fast, but this team’s playing incredibly fast. It’s up the floor and whoever has it makes a super fast decision to either shoot it or crack you off the bounce or move it to the next guy.
“They seem to find every breakdown. ... It’s a heck of a pace, and they’ve got the skill around it. Everybody can shoot, everybody can take it off the bounce. So we’ll see if we can try to get that pace under control a little bit better next time we see them.”
Sixers besides Maxey collectively missed 9 of their first 10 threes. Fortunately, a few Sixers role players began to sink jumpers to stymie the Pacers' push. Batum and De’Anthony Melton canned key third-quarter threes.
Those shots didn't deter the Pacers, who ended the third on an 8-0 run and finally grabbed their first lead early in the fourth.
The Sixers leaned on Maxey and Tobias Harris (18 points, nine rebounds) to start the fourth. It was massive that they regularly got more than one chance to score per possession. Harris had two put-back lay-ins in the fourth and the Sixers finished with 23 offensive rebounds, their most in a single game since April 3, 2019.
Hustling bench players like Reed and Beverley have consistently supported the offensive rebounding effort. Maxey did as well Sunday night, reaching his new career high and stretching the Sixers' lead to 124-114 by snagging a Beverley air ball and laying it in.
The stars owned the evening — no one should hesitate now in describing Maxey that way — but the Sixers' fight for offensive boards and dominance in that area saved them.
And with a victory essentially secure, Maxey punctuated his night by taking a deep step-back three and, of course, drilling it to reach the 50-point mark.
“I think Joel wanted me to get 50 more than I think myself did,” Maxey said. “He went to grab the ball and was like, ‘You are going to shoot this basketball.’
“I just appreciate my teammates, man. I appreciate my teammates, appreciate the fans, appreciate the coaching staff. It was a great night. We got the win, so that’s what matters the most.”