By Connor Thomas
The only storyline that mattered to many people prior to the Sixers taking the floor Sunday in Indiana against the Pacers was that the Sixers would be without MVP candidate Joel Embiid. Embiid, who sat out due to a nagging back issue, has been sensational so far this season, leading the Sixers to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The nights when he doesn’t play, have been… well, awful. Philadelphia entered last night’s game with an 0-4 record this year when Embiid doesn’t dress, and a couple of those losses have come to teams much less formidable than the Pacers they lined up with. Despite jumping out to a quick 8-0 lead, it was very apparent in the 1st quarter that it would be difficult for the Sixers to buck this trend in Indiana. The Sixers had their worst opening quarter of the season, scoring only 18 points in the frame while the Pacers put up 28, 12 of which came from a hot start by Malcolm Brogdon. That 10 point lead would hold relatively steady throughout the 2nd quarter as well. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris were able to wake up a little bit in the quarter, contributing 8 and 10 points respectively, but Aaron Holiday caught fire off the bench for Indiana pouring in 12 of his own to help hold Philly at arm’s length. With a 9 point halftime deficit, it felt like the Sixers were headed for another installment of Embiid-less losing basketball.
The 3rd quarter wasn’t any better for Philadelphia, who squandered a great 11 minutes of aggressive Ben Simmons. It was All Star Domantas Sabonis’ turn to takeover for the Pacers as his 12 points in the 3rd were enough to extend the lead to 13 by the start of the 4th. Something needed to change for the Sixers, and quickly. This is where the offseason acquisition of a coach with a stellar NBA track record is supposed to pay off, and last night it did just that. Doc Rivers turned the Pacers on their heads in the final quarter, employing a 2-3 zone with the dual havoc wreakers of Simmons and Matisse Thybulle at the top. The zone was more effective than anyone could have imagined, with the combined starters for Indiana scoring only 5 points the rest of the way. The Pacers were held to just 15 total points in the quarter, but the Sixers still had to come up with a way to generate some offense on the other end of the floor.
That effort was realized thanks in large part to one Furkan Korkmaz, who led the Sixers with 11 of the team’s 37 in the quarter. Korkmaz’s red hot shooting helped the Sixers retake the lead with 2 and a half minutes to go, and the Sixers lock down defense handled the rest. From the 5:56 mark on, what Doc Rivers’ termed postgame as the “John Chaney matchup zone” (in honor of the late former Temple Basketball coach who passed away on Friday) was completely impregnable, giving up 0 points from the floor for the rest of the game. The huge comeback by the Sixers was a welcome sight for a team that seemed to have exorcised the demons of their inability to win without Embiid. The Sixers moved to 15-6 on the year while Indiana fell to 11-9. The Sixers will be back in action on Wednesday in Charlotte against the Hornets.