Sixers pull off a 20-point comeback against the Indiana Pacers

Audrey Becker, Staff writer

After falling behind by 20 points, the 76ers outpaced the Indiana Pacers last week with the help of a rarely-used defensive strategy and pulled out a win.

Though the Sixers players deserve credit for their efforts, it was Coach Doc Rivers’ new defensive adjustment that really handed his team the win. About four minutes into the final quarter, Rivers switched the Sixers defensive scheme from man to man into a rarely used 2-3 zone. This clearly threw Indiana off their rhythm, and the Sixers went on a 31-6 scoring run as a result.

“Zone is so interesting, especially in the NBA because of the short shot clock,” said Rivers. “When you get a couple stops, it starts becoming more mental to the other team. They score and then you have to get out of it, but I just wanted to knock them off rhythm.”

Tobias Harris, who played a significant role in the Sixers’ comeback performance, and took on the leadership role in Embiid’s absence, agreed.

“It’s just resilience from the whole group,” said Harris in a post-game interview. “Obviously, with Joel [Embiid] out, we needed to find a lot of energy from different guys and I thought we got that energy from guys like Matisse, Furk, Tyrese, Dwight [Howard] came in and he was a beast on the boards and being able to control the paint. We know that there’s going to be games where we don’t have Joel and we have to figure it out, find a way.”

On paper, the Sixers are a better team than the Pacers, but when it was announced that MVP candidate Embiid was not playing, Philadelphia’s hopes for an easy victory evaporated. Embiid, who was out with back tightness, has been a force for the Sixers this season, averaging an impressive 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists, and  has led his team to the best record in the Eastern Conference thus far. However, the Sixers without Embiid in the lineup held an abysmal 0-4 record.

Starting in Embiid’s place was third string center Tony Bradley, who is, at best, generally a role player on the team. Coach Doc Rivers was reluctant to start his usual backup, Dwight Howard, because of his recent string of games where Howard found himself in foul trouble after only a few minutes on the court. The game started off fairly even, but, by the end of the first quarter, the Sixers trailed the home team by 10. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Pacers had been able to keep their opponents at arm’s length — led by 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who torched the Sixers from beyond the arc, as well as Aaron Holiday’s 17 points. 

Philadelphia, despite solid performances from Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, had somehow dug itself into a 20-point hole. With about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Pacers’ projected victory odds were projected at 98 percent. However, with the help of some stellar defense by Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers slowly started to creep back into the game. Thybulle muddied up opposing passing lanes, deflecting the ball 11 times in the fourth quarter, leading to four steals. Additionally, Turkish sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz rattled off 11 points in the fourth quarter alone. Indiana’s lead continued to dwindle as the clock ran down until, with two minutes to play the Sixers took the lead and, eventually, the win.

“[Thybulle] made us hesitant to pass. I think we got in our own heads a little bit. We panicked,” said Pacers guard, and former 76er, TJ McConnell.