KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Nothing has changed.
The 76ers still commit too many mistakes. Their chemistry is still in question. And the Sixers still have a knack for underachieving.
On Saturday, they suffered a 127-121 defeat to the undermanned Indiana Pacers at the VISA Athletic Center in a seeding-game opener for both teams.
“It was some humble pie for us to be honest,” Tobias Harris said, “to really affirm to us that any team at any time can have a good game and can beat you.”
The Sixers dropped to 39-27 after losing to a Pacers squad (40-26) playing without All-Star post player Domantas Sabonis (left foot plantar fasciitis) and guards Jeremy Lamb (torn left anterior cruciate ligament) and Malcolm Brogdon (neck injury) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, T.J. Warren was healthy.
The Pacers forward lit them up for 53 points, making 9 of 12 three-pointers. Warren was hot from the start, scoring 29 points in the first half. Matisse Thybulle guarded him a little bit in the second half. Warren only made 1 of 6 shots and sank two foul shots with the rookie on him. However, Warren scored 10 points after Thybulle came out of the game. Meanwhile, the Sixers didn’t help themselves, committing 21 turnovers compared to 10 by the Pacers.
“We have to take care of the basketball,” Harris said. “We have to be locked in with one another. It’s the first game back. We know we got to be better and we got to improve.”
Joel Embiid and Harris did their part, combining for 71 points, but it wasn’t enough.
Embiid had 41 points, 21 rebounds and 3 blocks after missing the final two scrimmage with right-calf tightness. Harris added 30 points. Ben Simmons had 19 points and 13 rebounds, but had a tough time defending Warren. The Pacers scored 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting - including going 5 of 5 on threes - with Simmons guarding him.
Simmons was moved to power forward ahead of the restart. Shake Milton took over at point guard for the two-time All-Star. And running the point was a struggle for Milton.
The Sixers talked about improving their chemistry here at Disney World. However, it was a bad look after Embiid said something to Milton as they walked to their seats after the first quarter. Milton turned around, said something in response, and had to be separated by teammates. Moments later, Milton went over and yelled something at Embiid, who was seated at the time.
Milton had just missed Embiid on the offensive end and blew two straight defensive assignments.
“It’s basketball,” Embiid said after the game, downplaying the altercation. “Everybody makes mistakes. It happens. We’ve got to come in and get better. But it’s nothing; it happens everywhere.
“We discussed about what’s going on, and moved on. We find a solution. It’s nothing.”
Brett Brown added that he’s not concerned about the discussion Embiid and Milton had.
“You don’t go cheerleading stuff like that all the time,” Brown said. “But if a conversation’s got to be had, it’s got to be had. I actually think that stuff like that is far more healthy than everything.”
Milton finished the quarter with zero points, zero shot attempts, an assist and two turnovers while struggling against the Pacers’ physicality and pressure.
Milton went to the bench after picking up his third foul with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first half. The second-year player picked up his fourth foul seven seconds into the second half and was replaced by Raul Neto.
“I thought he got sped up in his mind,” Brown said of Milton, who finished with zero points while missing his lone shot attempt. “He got scored on initially pretty quickly. We had a discussion about pick-and-roll defense him and Joel, about that direction the screen was coming.
“And I thought he chased for the most part all game.”
Brown thinks it was the result of frustration. The foul trouble also prohibited him from staying in game and finding rhythm.
The outcome enabled the Pacers, fifth in the Eastern Conference, to clinch the tiebreaker, winning the season series with the sixth-place Sixers. Indiana will get the higher seed if both teams finish their eight-game seeding slate with the same record.
Before the game, both teams and referees Eric Lewis, Trey Maddox, and Mitchell Ervin knelt during the national anthem. This marked the third straight day the teams did this at the restart.
For the past couple of months, the Sixers – like most teams – talked about using their platform to make a statement. They even discussed several other ways to use their platform .
The Pacers and several Sixers wore phrases on the back of their jerseys to bring awareness to social issues. Harris wore “Say Her Name,” while Josh Richardson wore “Say Their Names.” Thybulle wore “Vote.” Furkan Korkmaz and Raul Neto had “Equality.” Alec Burks wore :Enough” and Kyle O’Quinn had “Hear Us.”
Brown said the Sixers wanted to send a message of solidarity.
“This topic, this attention, this racial injustice situation that we are living and breathing in such a significant way and how it’s impacted everybody, not just the United States,” Brown said. “To show a level that this a unified message.”
The NBA, the coaches and the referees have supported the players using their platform. Brown added the Sixers organization, led by managing partner Josh Harris, co-managing partner David Blitzer and general manager Elton Brand, have supported their players.