INDIANAPOLIS – The New Year’s Eve matchup of towering front courts never happened.
Blame it on Joel Embiid’s sore left knee.
The 76ers announced 1½ hours before Tuesday’s matinee that their two-time All-Star was out with left-knee soreness. That wasn’t good for a team in desperate need of a win. And it definitely wasn’t good on a day the Sixers faced the Pacers’ twin towers, 6-foot-11 center Myles Turner and 6-11 power forward Domantas Sabonis.
“It was always going to be a challenge, even with Joel,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said before the game. “Without Joel, it’s amplified.”
The Pacers rolled to a 115-97 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, improving their record to 22-12 and snapping a two-game skid. The Sixers (23-13) lost their third straight road game after a thrilling Christmas Day home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. They dropped to 7-11 on the road.
This also marked Philly’s sixth loss in its last nine games.
“Our effort was not good enough,” Al Horford said. “We let them do whatever they wanted on the floor. A lot of it falls on me setting a tone on the defensive end, and I definitely take some of that blame.”
“They just had a lot of confidence going to the lane, and that second quarter just really hurt us.”
Indiana broke the game open with a 17-2 run to start the second quarter, taking a 46-29 lead with 6 minutes, 24 seconds before intermission.
For the game, the Pacers matched their season-high with 35 assists on 42 field goals. They also forced 15 turnovers while committing only six.
The Sixers, meanwhile, made just 6 of 29 three-pointers, or 20.7%.
Sabonis paced seven Indiana players in double figures, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal, before leaving the game with 7 1/2 minutes left.
Turner had 14 points, making three-of-five three-pointers in just three-quarters of action.
But T.J. Warren, the third member of the Pacers’ front court, did the most damage. The 6-8 small forward looked like a ringer in a church league, finishing with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting. All of his points came in the first half, when he shot 9-for-9, including two threes.
Without Embiid, who missed his seventh game of the season, the Sixers had no answers for the Pacers.
“I think he changes the game when he’s in,” Turner said about Embiid. “I think he’s an important piece for them. But, fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about that tonight. We went out there and got the job done.”
The Sixers elected to keep the 6-9 Horford at power forward. He usually starts at center when Embiid doesn’t play. Instead, 6-9 Kyle O’Quinn replaced the 7-2 Embiid.
That move enabled them to keep their substitution pattern and bench rotation. This game marked O’Quinn’s first appearance since Dec. 20 against the Dallas Mavericks. It was his first start since April 10, as a Pacer.
Norvelle Pelle -- not O’Quinn -- subbed for Horford at center with 55.3 seconds left in the quarter. Embiid usually comes back in for Horford at that time. Pelle got the second-half start at center.
At that point, the Pacers had a commanding 67-43 lead. The Sixers trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half. O’Quinn (4 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) re-entered the game with 8:10 left in the third, with Pelle picking up his fourth foul and the Sixers trailing by 33 points. The Pacers went on to lead by as many as 36 points.
Things were so bad that Horford (5 points on 2-for-12 shooting) and the Sixers’ backcourt tandem -- Ben Simmons (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Josh Richardson (20 points) -- sat out the fourth quarter.
Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon returned after missing the last three games with a sore left hamstring. However, he left with lower-back tightness in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Former Sixer T.J. McConnell had 11 points and 10 assists. The Sixers chose not to re-sign the free agent last summer.