INDIANAPOLIS — Remember when consecutive losses to the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons had some worried about Joel Embiid’s candidacy for league MVP?

Well, the 76ers star was having none of that.

The five-time All-Star has the Sixers back on track while posting MVP-worthy performances in three straight victories. The undermanned Indiana Pacers were the latest victim in Tuesday night’s 131-122 matchup at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Embiid finished with game-highs of 45 points and 13 rebounds. Twenty-seven of his points along with seven rebounds came before intermission. Then he added 12 points in the third quarter.

» READ MORE: The Sixers’ Doc Rivers responds to coaches who complain about James Harden’s and Joel Embiid’s frequent free throws: ‘Stop fouling them’

The five-time All-Star went into the contest needing 35 points to surpass Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James as the league’s scoring leader. So Embiid now leads the league in scoring at 30.42 points per game with three games remaining. James is second at 30.26.

“It’s great, but the win is also great,” Embiid said. “So that’s all I can control. Just go out there and do whatever is needed. You know at times, like tonight, I started off the game and they doubled hard and tried to make the right plays. Also, my teammates got me a bunch of easy baskets, which got me going.”

He thinks the key every game is to take whatever the defense gives him. Embiid knows the Toronto Raptors are going to play him the same way on Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.

“So just trying to make plays,” Embiid said, “and then, obviously, it makes it easy when we are knocking down shots, too.”

They shot 54 % from the field, including hitting a franchise-record 23 three-pointers in 40 attempts for 57.5%.

Embiid’s efforts helped the Eastern Conference fourth-place Sixers (49-30) avoid blowing a 27-point, third-quarter lead. With him on the bench, the Pacers (25-55) closed the gap to five points (111-106) with 9 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. He returned to game at that point partly because his backup DeAndre Jordan was ejected for committing a flagrant foul 2 on Duane Washington Jr.

The Sixers went on a 13-3 run to get a little breathing run with 5:21 left. Embiid had four of those points. He also made pair of foul shots to put the Sixers up 11 with 3:17 before blocking a shot on the ensuing possession.

They also got a big game from Tyrese Maxey.

The second-year guard finished with 30 points while making 8-of-11 three-pointers. His eight threes were one shy of the franchise record shared by Danny Green and Dana Barros. Maxey went 7-of-9 from that distance in the first half. His seven threes were the most by a Sixers in a half since the 1996-97 season.

“I got some open shots and I tried to make them,” Maxey said. “That’s really about it. It’s my job to space the floor. And Joel and James [Harden], when they’re playing a two-man game, make sure my man can’t help.”

Maxey said he thinks his 11 three-point attempts were the most he has ever had on any level. He thinks he made six or seven a couple of times in high school.

Embiid was happy for his teammate.

“But I told him to go for the record and he didn’t do it,” he said, “So that wasn’t good enough. But it’s good. I mean his development, I’ve said in the past, he works on his game.

“He’s committed. He wants to get better, and you see the results.”

Embiid has been “Most dominating player in the league”

The deadline to vote for end-of-season awards is 11:59 p.m. Monday. Despite posting dominant performances throughout the season, Embiid is a distant second behind Nikola Jokić in the MVP race, according to a recent ESPN poll.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked if Embiid gets a bum rap around the league.

“I don’t know, honestly,” he said. “I’m not involved in that. … Joel has been great. Joel has been the MVP since the first game. All year. The other guys are making runs, or one thing. But Joel has been the same. I don’t think any of them have gone through it.

“First he had to do the whole Ben [Simmons] saga. Then he had to integrate James. Yet his play hasn’t changed. So he’s had two big things to change. Yet, he’s still the most dominating player in the league.”

No rest yet for Harden and Embiid

A couple of weeks ago, Rivers talked about Embiid and Harden getting a few games off to rest down the stretch.

However, Friday marked the eighth consecutive games that both players participated in after resting against the Miami Heat on March 21. The Sixers have three regular-season games left.

“It’s really not up to me, honestly,” Rivers said about their availability in eight straight games. “Because I would go first, if it’s just rest, I’m taking that. But it’s really going by the numbers. It’s so much more than just me. In the old days, we would just rest guys. It’s a lot more detailed than that.”

The numbers show that Embiid (lower back) and Harden (left hamstring) are holding up better than expected. Harden finished with 11 points and 14 assists Tuesday.

» READ MORE: ‘Everybody’s interchangeable’: Sixers sit in jumbled Eastern Conference standings during regular season’s final week

Tale of two halves

The Sixers were unstoppable in the first half and sloppy in the second. That was a major reason why the Pacers were able to get back into the game.

The Sixers’ 17 three-pointers in the first half were a season high. They also outscored the Pacers by 49-28 in the second quarter, marking the eighth time in franchise history that they have scored 49 points in a quarter. And their 82 first-half points were tied for the sixth-most the team has scored in the first half.

But the Sixers were outscored, 63-49, after intermission. They also committed nine of their 16 turnovers during that time.

T.J. McConnell’s return

Pacers backup point guard T.J. McConnell returned Tuesday night after missing 55 games with a right wrist injury to face his former team. McConnell, who hadn’t played since Dec. 1, underwent surgery for ligament damage in the wrist.

He finished with 2 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. The Pacers only have two games remaining: Saturday at the Sixers and Sunday at the Brooklyn Nets.

So what value does it bring for McConnell to play in three meaningless games for the Pacers, the conference’s third-worst team?

“You know, it’s a good question,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I think the No. 1 reason is he wants to come back. He wants to play. He wants to get some momentum going into his summer. He wants to feel what it’s like to compete with his teammates.”

McConnell signed with the Sixers as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona on Sept. 22, 2015. The 30-year-old played in Philly for four seasons before signing a free-agent deal with the Pacers on Aug. 6, 2021.

“Why?” Rivers jokingly asked of McConnell playing. “Ask him why. Can he call me up, and I want to ask him why he’s playing, other than it’s Philadelphia?

“He’s just a great competitor. ... He loves talking. Between him and Georges [Niang] on our team, they should mic them up live. They would be one heck of a trash-talking competition.”

Undermanned Pacers

While McConnell returned, the Pacers were without Myles Turner (left foot stress reaction), T.J. Warren (fractured left navicular), Ricky Rubio (torn ACL left ), Chris Duarte (sore left big toe), Malcolm Brogdon (sore lower back), and Goga Bitadze (sore right foot). This marked their eighth straight loss and 10th in 12 games.

What’s next

The Sixers will face the Raptors (46-33) in the final game of the three-game road trip. Toronto holds a 2-1 series advantage over the Sixers this season.