PHILADELPHIA – Throw anything at the Indiana Pacers. They simply refuse to back down.
They passed a tough road test in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, losing backup center Domantas Sabonis to a sprained left ankle in the third quarter, and facing a talented 76ers team that was looking to make a statement. These teams could face each other in the playoffs, and this wasn’t just another regular-season game.
The intensity was high. The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center had the volume turned up. But in the end, the Pacers left with another signature victory, 101-98, to move 12 games over .500 (40-28) for the first time this season.
Myles Turner led the Pacers with 25 points, Thaddeus Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) had a strong game at both ends, and that was enough to overcome a tough shooting night for Victor Oladipo (11 points, 4-of-21 from the field). Joel Embiid led Philadelphia with 29 points and 12 rebounds.
Box score: Pacers 101, Sixers 98
Crossing fingers: Sabonis suffers scary-looking injury
That makes 40 wins for the Pacers with 14 games left. Back in October, many people thought 40 wins seemed out of the question for the Pacers, who traded Paul George during the offseason, and entered the season as an unknown quantity.
We know what the Pacers are now — one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. This was another game that displayed their resiliency, as they held off the Sixers (36-30) in the final minutes. A thunderous dunk by Embiid pulled Philadelphia within 92-89 with 4:18, left and, with the crowd roaring, Pacers coach Nate McMillan called timeout. Trevor Booker answered with a putback off a miss by Bojan Bogdanovic, giving the Pacers a five-point cushion again. After Indiana made a defensive stop, Oladipo drilled a 3-pointer to put the Pacers ahead, 97-89, with just over 3 minutes to play.
But the Sixers weren’t done. They scored the next five points, and had a chance to tie in the final 30 seconds. J.J. Redick missed a potential tying 3, and Turner grabbed a huge rebound and was fouled. Turner made both free throws with 21.5 seconds to play, and the Pacers led by three again with 13.4 seconds left.
Then the Pacers committed a huge turnover, when Oladipo was double-teamed and called for an offensive foul, for throwing an elbow while trying to escape the trap. The Sixers called timeout and went to Embiid, who launched a long 3 that missed. Oladipo and Dario Saric fought for the rebound, leading to a jump ball with 3 seconds left. The ball went into the corner after the tap, and the Pacers were awarded possession with .3 of a second to play. They inbounded the ball, the clock expired.
Here are three takeaways from the Pacers’ latest victory:
1. Turner has been a different player this month.
This was another impressive performance for Turner, who held his own against Embiid — an All-Star center with crazy talent. Turner had at least two plays that stood out — a slam dunk with Embiid draped all over him, and a follow-up layup while being fouled hard in the lane. Turner let out a primal scream after that putback, and he is playing with force that was missing early in the season.
2. Sabonis’ ankle sprain could be a real downer.
Just when the Pacers were as healthy as they had been all season, Sabonis went down, writhing in pain and clutching his left ankle after it was fallen on by Embiid during a third-quarter battle for a rebound. To see one of the Pacers’ toughest players react that way was even more concerning, and he was helped to the locker room without putting any weight on his left ankle. An X-ray was negative. Sabonis will be evaluated further after the Pacers’ return to Indiana, but his injury returns Al Jefferson to the rotation as the backup to Turner, and it weakens the Pacers’ bench. Turner is playing extremely well, but Sabonis’ scoring and rebounding will be missed, and the Pacers face a difficult final 14 games. The Pacers have been resilient all season, and dealing with Sabonis’ injury will test that again.
3. This game had a nasty edge, with the atmosphere of a playoff game.
From the time Ben Simmons took a hard foul on Lance Stephenson in the second quarter, tempers were short on both sides. Simmons was not called for a flagrant foul, but Stephenson was not happy after falling hard to the floor, and he rose to his feet pointing at Simmons. Meanwhile, the Pacers’ bench seemed unhappy on the play that led to Sabonis’ injury. Embiid’s arms were flying everywhere all night, and on the play when Sabonis was injured, a flailing arm from Embied hit Trevor Booker in the face before Embiid fell onto Sabonis’ ankle. The Pacers felt Embiid had been getting away with offensive fouls, and loose ball fouls that were not being called, while the Sixers and their fans felt shortchanged as well. If these teams meet in the playoffs, it could be a lot of fun.
Follow IndyStar sports writer Clifton Brown on Twitter @CliftonGBrown