INDIANAPOLIS – Joel Embiid didn’t resemble someone who had just reached a personal milestone.
The 76ers center sat at his locker with the pain of another second-half struggle visible on his face. This was the night he was supposed to celebrate finally competing on both nights of back-to-back games. However, his thoughts were on his team’s problems in 100-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I feel like the whole night we were just flat,” Embiid said. “We didn’t play at the level we usually play at. But overall, we didn’t have a good game.”
The Sixers (25-25) struggled mightily in the second half, shooting 31.7 percent (13-41) while making just 1 of 14 three-pointers. They also committed 12 of their 18 turnovers after intermission, including seven in the fourth quarter.
In addition to that, the Sixers were doomed by an inability to stop Lance Stephenson in the fourth quarter. The reserve guard scored 12 of his 14 points in the final quarter. He scored or assisted on the first 15 points of the quarter for Indiana (30-24).
Playing on consecutive nights for the first time of his career, Embiid led all scorers with 24 points to go with 10 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double. He did, however, have seven turnovers. This came one night after he finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a home win over the Miami Heat.
“I felt great,” Embiid said. “My legs weren’t tired. My body was fine. I could feel it just a little bit. But I was fine.”
Unfortunately for the Sixers, his presence didn’t prevent their fourth straight road loss. After trailing by 14 points with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Sixers closed the gap to 98-92 on JJ Redick’s three foul shots with 54.2 seconds left. But that was close as they got.
The Sixers shot 6 of 20 in the fourth quarter — including 1 for 10 on three-pointers. Ben Simmons finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Dario Saric added 16 points.
The Pacers were paced by Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic, both with 19 points.
But a lot of the focus went to Embiid playing in back-to-back games.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Embiid said before the game. “I ready to go out there to prove people wrong.”
He had heard detractors say he would never play on consecutive nights. They pointed out that two foot surgeries sidelined Embiid for two seasons after being selected as the third overall pick of the 2014 draft. Then they mocked him for playing only 31 games last season due to a knee injury. And those detractors took note of Embiid missing at least one game in each of the Sixers’ first six back-to-back situations this season. He has missed 10 games this season because of rest and/or minor injuries.
“To have Joel Embiid available is a whole new world when you thinking about what you are going to do on a free throw, what are you going to do on a side out of bounds,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of having Embiid available in back-to-back games.
He was expected to play in both games of last Sunday’s and Monday’s back-to-back situation, depending on how his body felt. But the team decided he needed rest after he played 35:32 in the 122-112 setback at Oklahoma City on Sunday — the most he had played since getting 48:39 of court time in a triple-overtime loss to the Thunder on Dec. 15.