Sixers at Pacers: Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey star in eighth straight win

The milestones keep tumbling down and the hottest team in the NBA keeps winning.

Joel Embiid set a new Sixers franchise record for consecutive games with at least 30 points, surpassing that number for the ninth straight time Saturday night in a 141-121 win over the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

He had 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting, seven assists, seven rebounds and two blocks in the Sixers’ eighth straight win.

Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points and Tobias Harris recorded 24.

Aaron Nesmith posted a career-high 25 points for the Pacers, who fell to 32-39.

On the second night in a row, the Sixers 48-22 beat James Harden (recovering from injury) and PJ Tucker (left ankle pain). Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte were injured.

Here are some observations on the Sixers’ eventual victory of a 3-0 road trip:

Melton a stellar replacement starter

The Sixers started De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr. in place of Harden and Tucker. It was House’s third start as a Sixer and his first since November 19.

Myles Turner scored Indiana’s first four points and the Sixers struggled early at both ends. Melton and House couldn’t connect in transition, wasting a chance for a quick break. After House missed a reverse layup try, Jordan Nwora made a three-point corner to take the Pacers to a 12-4 lead.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers called time out and his team immediately hit Indiana with a 14-0 run. This push included lines of Maxey, House and Harris, as well as a coast-to-coast Melton layup. The Sixers’ defense has also improved a lot. House did a solid job on a possession against Turner in the post, forcing a well-contested miss, and Melton took the pocket from TJ McConnell twice. The 24-year-old turned the second steal into a buzzer-beating dunk that put the Sixers in the lead 34-24. He’s clearly a good player to have on the court when you’re hoping to extend a few good possessions into a big, game-changing run.

In 34 high-quality minutes, Melton had 14 points, six steals, five assists and five rebounds.

Maxey dangerous everywhere

To open the second quarter, the Sixers used Maxey in the typical Harden spot alongside four bench players.

He was exceptionally strong and confident in this role; the third-year guard had 22 points in the first half on 9-for-11 shooting and scored smoothly at all three levels. Maxey’s obvious ability to score from anywhere was reminiscent of his record-breaking 44-point performance against the Raptors in late October. He showed tons of variety with left-handed lay-ins, banked runners, and flowing pull-up threes.

Harris, Shake Milton and Georges Niang also produced effective offense in a 38-point second quarter for the Sixers. However, the team’s defense is expected to decline with Embiid on the bench. Paul Reed had two quick fouls, leading to Dewayne Dedmon’s first stint in the rotation since the Sixers signed him over a month ago; the 33-year-old played just under three minutes in the second quarter. Reed had a good time in the fourth and finished with 10 points on 5-on-6 shooting.

Jalen McDaniels returned after missing the last two games with a bruised right hip. His movement seemed hesitant at times, but McDaniels took advantage of the Sixers’ last possession in the first quarter when the Pacers focused on a Milton-Embiid pick-and-roll and let him free for a lay-up and one. McDaniels eventually went 16 minutes and scored seven points.

Embiid in full command

Embiid was happy to draw double teams and find open shooters all night long from his nail desk.

He had no problem breaking free for lone midrange jumpers against Turner as well. In the third quarter, Embiid passed Maurice Cheeks for eighth place on the Sixers’ all-time scoring list. When the Pacers sensibly enough sent a more aggressive assist to Embiid on the Sixers’ next possession, he swung the ball to Melton on the left wing. Melton moved it selflessly to Maxey, whose corner three extended the Sixers’ lead to 15 points.

Given the quality of free throws from Embiid and the Sixers, any significant deficit must be especially demoralizing for opponents who already know their talent is inferior and the other team has the unquestionably better player on the field. The Sixers entered Saturday night with an NBA-leading 83.4 free throw percentage. Coming off a 10-for-13 outing, Embiid is 85.5 percent this season.

Impressively, the Sixers needed Embiid for zero minutes in the fourth quarter in their back-to-back sweep of Charlotte and Indiana. If they beat the Bulls on Monday in Philadelphia, they’ll have their longest winning streak of the season.

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