The Philadelphia 76ers had an opportunity to lock themselves on top of the Eastern Conference officially on Tuesday night. Going into the matchup against the Indiana Pacers, it seemed the Sixers, who were in the midst of an eight-game win streak, would inevitably own the first seed by the end of the night.
But it wouldn't come that easy for Philly. For starters, the Sixers were quite shorthanded against the Pacers. Defensive standout Matisse Thybulle and offensive sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz were both ruled out as early as Monday night as they're dealing with minor setbacks.
Meanwhile, Sixers star Joel Embiid reportedly didn't make the trip to Indiana as he's been dealing with a non-COVID illness. Therefore, the big man sat out too. Lastly, the Sixers listed backup guard Shake Milton as a late scratch since he was dealing with knee soreness during pregame warmups.
Despite missing four players, the Sixers got off to a hot start on Tuesday night. 76ers guard Ben Simmons turned up the offensive aggression and scored 14 points in his first 18 minutes. Tobias Harris matched that production in just 16 minutes.
By halftime, the 76ers had a comfortable 11-point lead. The Pacers, who surely had something to play for, wouldn't roll over when the third quarter came around. After outscoring the Sixers 24-13, the Pacers managed to tie the game up at 75, heading into the final quarter.
As Indiana kept the Sixers' offensive in check, holding them to just 19 points in the final 12 minutes of action, the Pacers put up 28 points of their own and secured a 103-94 victory, preventing the Sixers from locking in the first seed on Tuesday.
In addition to making life hard for the East's top team, the Pacers also did themselves a favor as they officially clinched a spot in the NBA's Play-In tournament next week as they try to snag a spot in the playoffs.
Although the Pacers remain in ninth place with a 33-39 record, they aren't out of the playoff picture just yet. With the Play-In tournament approaching, Indiana remains a candidate to face the 76ers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.