INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Entering the Indiana Pacers' matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, a lot was made about this being an opportunity to see where they may stand.
Joel Embiid has played at an MVP level so far this season and it was supposed to be a great test for the Pacers to try to slow him down. Instead, he was ruled out shortly before tip-off. At one point late in the third quarter, Indiana led by 20-points and all appeared to be well.
Things changed in a hurry for the Pacers. Instead of staying satisfied with failing results, the 76ers brought out an aggressive 2-3 zone defense and mounted a 21-2 run midway through the fourth quarter. Ultimately, it resulted in a 119-110 victory.
Here are three things to like and dislike from Sunday's loss:
LIKE: 34 Minutes of Good Execution
With the way this game ended up playing out, it almost felt like it was two different outings. For about the initial 34 minutes of gameplay, there was a lot to genuinely like about the Pacers' performance.
At the 1:57 mark of the third quarter, the Pacers had already put 95 points on the board and held the largest lead of the game at 20 points. It appeared as though Indiana was on the verge of putting the 76ers away for good -- had they not already done so already.
The Pacers were thriving against the 76ers' man-to-man defensive looks and were converting well from deep. Indiana was 36-of-64 (56.3%) from the field, 9-of-19 (47.4%) from the perimeter, and 14-of-16 (87.5%) on free throws with just nine turnovers at this point in the game.
Indiana's leaders were having great performances as well. Malcolm Brogdon already chipped in 24 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Meanwhile, Domantas Sabonis was already up to 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.
DISLIKE: Execution Against 2-3 Zone
It's no secret the Pacers sorely lacked even a decent level of execution when the 76ers decided to turn to a 2-3 zone and crank up the ball pressure. In fact, Philadelphia managed to pull off a staggering 21-2 run using it in the fourth quarter -- completely changing the game.
With two elite wing defenders in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle atop the zone wreaking havoc, the 76ers were able to cover ground very quickly. The Pacers simply lack the shot creation talent out on the perimeter to be able to counteract this and it showed.
There simply can't be lineup combinations that feature multiple non-shooting threats. It's important to have Domantas Sabonis to operate in the middle, but having TJ McConnell on the perimeter simply emboldens the 76ers' defenders up top to pre-rotate off him.
LIKE: Valuable Learning Opportunity
It's not easy to beat a team in a seven-game series in the NBA playoffs and that's mostly because it requires a chess match between two teams. If a new strategy is deployed and works, there isn't always time for the opposition to adjust and recover.
The 76ers showed the Pacers what they could have brought out on defense had this been a playoff series. Seeing this different strategy before even the halfway mark of the regular season as opposed to during Game 3 of a series is a silver lining.
It may not mean much right now, but the Pacers now have a fair amount of possessions on film against the 76ers' zone. Indiana now will be able to go to the drawing board with potential counters to Philadelphia's strategy.
DISLIKE: Going Away From Aaron Holiday
The Pacers received a truly impressive outing from Aaron Holiday in this game. He managed to score 17 points on 7-of-11 (63.6%) from the field and 2-of-2 (100.0%) from beyond the arc...but only received 17 minutes of total playing time.
Nothing is ever a guarantee in the world of hypotheticals, but it's hard to envision Holiday, who is a much better perimeter shooter than McConnell, not being a better option against the 2-3 zone. The 76ers would have had to respect him as a floor spacer and he could have been a pull-up threat.
At the very least, it was intriguing to see Holiday put together a strong offensive performance. It will be important long-term that he manages to solidify himself ahead of McConnell in the rotation to maximize the Pacers' shooting capabilities throughout games.
LIKE: Leaning Experience For Nate Bjorkgren
As a first-time NBA head coach, Nate Bjorkgren is still learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be successful in the job. So far, he's done an effective job, but losing a 20-point lead against a team that was 0-4 without their best player entering the matchup was a low-point.
There will be plenty of ups and downs for any team as they go through a 72-game season. The Pacers are no stranger to that as they have dealt with injuries to key players among other things. The same applies to coaches, especially rookies.
Bjorkgren opted to not call a timeout during the 76ers' massive fourth-quarter run despite his offense looking lost. The in-game experience of seeing what works and what doesn't helps. It also is a benefit to see what other teams could throw at him during games, too.
The fact that Philadelphia managed to completely zap Indiana's momentum and mount an incredible comeback is clearly not something to 'like' from the Pacers' perspective. However, seeing how Bjorkgren learns from this outing should help down the road.
DISLIKE: Costly Turnovers Continue
It has been a problem for the Pacers to keep their turnover volume low in recent performances. Oftentimes, Indiana's opposition has managed to create a sizeable advantage in points off turnovers and it was no different against the 76ers.
The Pacers finished with 17 turnovers as a team with Domantas Sabonis and TJ McConnell each accounting for six of their own. Ultimately, Sabonis and McConnell finished with the same number of turnovers as the entire 76ers team.
Philadelphia managed to score 25 points as a direct result of the Pacers' turnovers -- creating a 10-point advantage in this area. To make matters worse, the 76ers had a 12-0 advantage in scoring off turnovers during the fourth quarter alone.