Sixers at Pacers: Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey star in eighth straight win
3 observations after record-setting Embiid stars in eighth straight win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Milestones keep tumbling and the NBA's hottest team keeps winning.
Joel Embiid set a new Sixers franchise record for consecutive games with at least 30 points, exceeding that number for the ninth straight time Saturday night in a 141-121 victory over the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
He had 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting, seven assists, seven rebounds and two blocks in the Sixers' eighth consecutive win.
With the Celtics' loss Saturday to the Jazz, the Sixers moved fractionally ahead of Boston for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference standings. The Sixers sit at 48-22 and the Celtics are 49-23.
Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points and Tobias Harris recorded 24.
Aaron Nesmith posted a career-high 25 points for the Pacers, who dropped to 32-39.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Sixers were down James Harden (injury recovery) and P.J. Tucker (left ankle soreness). Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte sat out with injuries.
Here are observations on the final Sixers win of a 3-0 road trip:
Melton a stellar replacement starter
The Sixers started De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr. in place of Harden and Tucker. It was House’s third start as a Sixer and his first since Nov. 19.
Myles Turner scored Indiana’s first four points and the Sixers struggled early on both ends. Melton and House couldn’t connect in transition, wasting a fast-break chance. After House missed a reverse layup try, Jordan Nwora made a corner three-pointer to lift the Pacers to a 12-4 lead.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers called timeout and his team immediately hit Indiana with a 14-0 run. That spurt included threes by Maxey, House and Harris, as well as a coast-to-coast Melton layup. The Sixers’ defense improved plenty, too. House did solid work on a possession against Turner in the post, forcing a well-contested miss, and Melton picked T.J. McConnell’s pocket twice. The 24-year-old turned the second theft into a buzzer-beating dunk that put the Sixers up 34-24. He’s clearly a nice player to have on the floor when you’re hoping to extend a few good possessions into a big, game-shifting run.
In 34 high-quality minutes, Melton had 14 points, six steals, five assists and five rebounds.
Maxey dangerous all over
To open the second quarter, the Sixers used Maxey in Harden’s typical spot alongside four bench players.
He was exceptionally strong and confident in that role; the third-year guard posted 22 first-half points on 9-for-11 shooting and scored smoothly at all three levels. Maxey’s obvious ability to score from anywhere was reminiscent of his career-high 44-point performance against the Raptors back in late October. He showed off tons of variety with lefty lay-ins, banked-in runners, and fluid pull-up threes.
Harris, Shake Milton and Georges Niang also produced efficient offense during a 38-point second quarter for the Sixers. However, the team’s defense expectedly declined with Embiid on the bench. Paul Reed got two quick fouls, leading to Dewayne Dedmon’s first stint in the rotation since the Sixers signed him over a month ago; the 33-year-old played a little under three second-quarter minutes. Reed had a swell time in the fourth and finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
Jalen McDaniels returned after missing the past two games with a right hip contusion. His movement looked tentative at times, but McDaniels profited on the Sixers’ final first-quarter possession when the Pacers fixated on a Milton-Embiid pick-and-roll and left him free for an and-one layup. McDaniels ultimately went 16 minutes and scored seven points.
Embiid in complete command
Embiid was glad to draw double teams and find open shooters throughout the night from his office at the nail.
He had zero trouble shaking free for mid-range jumpers in isolation against Turner, too. In the third quarter, Embiid moved past Maurice Cheeks for eighth on the Sixers’ all-time scoring list. When the Pacers quite reasonably sent more aggressive help at Embiid on the Sixers’ next possession, he swung the ball to Melton on the left wing. Melton selflessly moved it along to Maxey, whose corner three stretched the Sixers’ lead to 15 points.
Given how well Embiid and the Sixers shoot free throws, any significant deficit has to be especially demoralizing for opponents that already know their talent is inferior and the other team unquestionably has the best player on the court. The Sixers entered Saturday night with an NBA-best 83.4 free throw percentage. After a 10-for-13 outing, Embiid is at 85.5 percent this season.
Impressively, the Sixers needed Embiid for zero fourth-quarter minutes in their back-to-back sweep of Charlotte and Indiana. If they beat the Bulls on Monday in Philadelphia, they'll have their longest winning streak of the season.