The Indiana Pacers took everything the Philadelphia 76ers had to throw at them in their toughest test of Group Play in the NBA In-Season Tournament to win by a final score of 132-126.
In the first half, the Pacers were running out of options to put up against Joel Embiid, who plays basketball like the objective of the game is to hear a whistle rather than to put the ball through the net. Myles Turner had 3 fouls in 7 minutes. Jalen Smith had 2 fouls in 3 minutes and then had to go to the hospital to get evaluated for a head injury. Isaiah Jackson committed his fourth foul of the game with 5:59 remaining in the first half. Daniel Theis was out for the game for personal reasons. So who did the Pacers turn to in order to guard the reigning MVP?
6’5” Aaron Nesmith.
And the Pacers played perhaps their best defense of the entire season. Nesmith entered the game with 5:16 left after Carlisle thought better of leaving Turner in the game with three fouls and the Pacers up only 3 points. The 76ers would make just 1 of 9 shots over this stretch and Indiana went into halftime with a 9-point lead.
Carlisle compared Nesmith’s task against Embiid to being in a WWE ring. He did everything he could to make passes inside difficult with the help of teammates making the paint crowded. They scrambled and scrapped and unlike in the previous matchup against the Sixers, they managed the rebound the ball.
The Pacers gave up 23 offensive rebounds on Sunday and were out-rebounded by 22 overall. Tonight, they only allowed 5 offensive rebounds all game and won the rebounding battle by 3.
After the game, Carlisle said they did make adjustments on the glass but that the biggest adjustment was disposition. After a “coach’s worst nightmare” in practice on Monday doing rebounding drills that looked like injuries may be happening every few minutes, Indiana did what they were unable to in the first matchup.
While the Pacers made a series of successful adjustments that added to the playoff feel of the In-Season Tournament, the 76ers were unable to figure out how to stop Tyrese Haliburton, who had 58 points, 32 assists, and zero turnovers in the two games combined. In the first half of this one, Haliburton went 6 of 8 from deep and scored 20 points.
Myles Turner came up huge for the Pacers in the fourth quarter. After he had only been able to stay on the court for 8 total minutes in the first three quarters with 2 points, Turner scored 15 in the final 12 minutes of the game as he drew multiple fouls inside and hit a huge 3-pointer late that pushed the Pacers lead.
The win puts the Pacers in the lead in East Group A at 2-0 with two games remaining. They play the Hawks and the Pistons with a clear shot at the Knockout Rounds if they can win both of those games.