Pacers struggle in loss to Sixers

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Spencer Hawes has tried to blossom into a leader
in the locker room. As a 76ers season full of promise collapsed under
injury and underachievement, he pulled the team together and delivered a
message: Stay together.

His encouragement mattered. His all-around terrific play has meant more.

Hawes had 18 points, a season-best eight
assists and career highs with 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots to
lead Philadelphia to a 98-91 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday
night.

“I really like the nucleus we have here
and what we’ve built here,” Hawes said. “This year has been tough on
everybody. I think if we can keep the right mindset going forward, and
finish out strong, I think the future is bright.”

Jrue Holiday added 27 points and 12
assists to help the Sixers win for only the third time in 15 games.
While the Sixers are one of the worst road teams in the league, they are
19-17 at home.

The Sixers led by one at the end of the
third quarter, then opened the fourth on a 19-4 run to put away the
Pacers. Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young each contributed some
lead-stretching buckets in the fourth to put all five starters in double
figures.

“It’s fun when the ball is moving,”
Holiday said. “I think I got most of my points just from, actually from
Spencer. Just somebody passing it backdoor.”

The 76ers had enough this time to
finish off one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They had a
late lead and the Heat on the ropes until they blew it and lost by four
Wednesday night.

Just like they did against Miami, the
Sixers got into an early groove in the quarter to put the upset alert on
notice. Dorell Wright hit a 3-pointer and Lavoy Allen came off the
bench to score his first two baskets to get a big run going. They forced
turnovers on consecutive possessions at one point during the spurt and
built a 10-point lead.

Somehow, Hawes, the much-maligned 7-1
center, outplayed Roy Hibbert. Hawes has settled in nicely as a starter
after an erratic first 42 games as a reserve. He had a fantastic
one-handed rebound right over Hibbert’s head in the third that put the
crowd of 18,587 on their feet. Hawes had six blocked shots through the
first three quarters and made the Pacers think twice about going inside.

Hawes could have used a few more games
like this one to make the season-long absence of Andrew Bynum (bone
bruises) a bit more palatable. Instead, the Sixers are limping toward
the finish line and a brutal road stretch to end the season looms.

But those are concerns for another day.
Not even Paul George’s 3-pointer with 33 seconds left to cut it to five
was enough to scare the Sixers.

They beat the Nets behind 24 points and
10 rebounds from Hawes to open a four-game homestand and finish Monday
against Portland. With three outstanding performances against three top
teams, the Sixers are left wondering why they haven’t played like this
all season.

“Yeah, but there’s no point about worrying about what’s happened in the past,” Hawes said.

The Pacers were coming off a 99-93 loss
to the Lakers on Friday night and lost to the Sixers for the first time
in three games this season.

Hibbert had 25 points and 10 rebounds.
George had 18 points and 14 rebounds. David West ran into early foul
trouble but finished with 18 points.

The Pacers have dropped four of six and their defense has not been as stout as it was over most of the first half.

“We’re hitting that point in the
season. It’s a grind,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Guys have played all
season a heck of a lot more minutes than they’ve ever played before. It
seems we’re a step slow in a lot of areas. We’ve got to grind through
it. It’s a concern, not alarming.”

Holiday, Philadelphia’s All-Star guard,
set the pace early with a sensational first half. He scored 20 points
on 9-of-13 shooting with six assists. Wright hit a pair of 3s that
helped turn an eight-point hole into a four-point lead.

Hibbert scored 14 points in the first
half, including a tip-in just before the buzzer to send Indiana into
halftime with a 49-48 lead.

“We just died on plays,” George said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Wright and Young each scored 13 points. The Sixers had 28 assists on 39 baskets and a season-high 14 blocks.

“When you’re moving the ball I think
that gives everybody a lot of confidence to knock down shots, get easy
buckets, get to the free-throw line, all that,” Holiday said.

Notes: Hall of Famer and 76ers great
Julius Erving presented the game ball. Erving attended the game on his
bobblehead night. … Vogel conceded the Pacers can’t catch the Heat for
best record in the East. He said the Pacers hope to win the Central
Division. … Hawes’ previous career high in rebounds was 15. …
Philadelphia’s 14 blocks were the most in game since 2009.