In the first half of the Sixers' 121-110 win Friday, the Pacers scored 44 points in the paint.

This season, the Sixers are allowing an average of 42.7 opponent points in the paint (oppPITP), just under their mark of 45.1 from last season, which ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference.

But 44 points scored in the paint in just the first half — that is alarming. For context, the worst team at allowing points in the paint last season, the Houston Rockets, averaged 49 oppPITP.

Brett Brown said as much and blamed the Sixers' poorly executed middle pick-and-roll defense.

"You come in at halftime and you say they got [44] points in the paint. That's unheard of in a game, that's way too many," he said.

The second half was a completely different story, though, with Indiana scoring just 14 points in the paint to close out the game.

There are a few things to look at when numbers like this show up.

Who was in the game?

Holding down the fort for the frontcourt was Joel Embiid, with Amir Johnson coming in to give him relief. Last season, Embiid allowed an average of 20.2 oppPITP.

Embiid, as he often does, found himself in foul trouble early on. He had racked up three fouls by late in the first half, including a flagrant-one foul to go with five turnovers. At the 8-minute, 57-second mark of the third quarter, Embiid was charged with his fourth foul and Richaun Holmes was called upon.

Identifying the problem

The Sixers' game plan Friday was to send the pick-and-rolls left. That failed in the first two quarters.

"We didn't stick to our defensive principles," Johnson said after the game. "Kudos to us for cleaning that up in the second half."

In the past, the Sixers would have faltered here, but being able to change the way the game is being played after the intermission is an area that proves the evolution of the team. The ability to isolate a problem area and fix it is something Brown says makes him excited about the trajectory of the Sixers.

What changed?

"Amir was OK, but I thought we needed a little bit of a jolt," Brown said. "Richaun is sort of a lightning bolt off a bench with his energy and his speed."

Holmes made his season debut in the third quarter after being sidelined with a fractured wrist for nearly a month. He played just over 10 minutes off the bench and finished with six points, five rebounds, one assist, and zero turnovers.

More important, the Pacers scored just six points in the paint when Holmes was in the game.

"Richaun gave us a lot of energy and I'm glad to have him back," Embiid said, adding that the team as a whole needs to get better at closing down the paint.

Moving forward

During training camp and the preseason, Holmes and Johnson were battling to earn the backup-center minutes. Brown has said that the reserve minutes are Johnson's to lose at this point, especially with Jahlil Okafor out of the rotation.

Johnson picked up his production in the last three games, but Holmes has stayed in great shape and will definitely make his case for more minutes if he continues to provide the "jolt" that the Sixers require.