SIXERS ONLY 2 1/2 GAMES OUT OF 1ST AFTER JOJO-LESS OT WIN!

By Tommy Matthews

De’Anthony Melton hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime and James Harden scored 26 points to lift the Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid, over the Indiana Pacers 129-126.

Melton put the Sixers ahead 125-124 with 2:16 left in OT. He finished with 19 points.

Montrezl Harrell followed with a rim-rattling dunk, and the Sixers held on for their 11th straight home win. Harrell also had 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting.

“It was one of those games that was almost out of control with the way everyone was playing,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said.

Embiid sat out with a sore left foot, which he hurt in Monday’s win against New Orleans and was ruled out hours before tipoff against Indiana.

He was named Eastern Conference player of the month for December. Embiid led all players in scoring at 35.4 points in the month on 55% shooting from the floor and 42% from 3-point range.

Without Embiid, the Sixers needed more production off the bench — and got it, notably from backup center Harrell. Harrell, the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2019-2020 when Rivers still coached the Los Angeles Clippers, made all five baskets in the first half and scored 12 points.

“With Joel being out, Montrezl was playing well on both ends of the ball,” Harden said. “He’s a true vet.”

Harden missed two free throws with 28 seconds left in OT and the Sixers up one. But he had a big blocked shot late that preserved the lead and set up two Sixers free throws that essentially sealed the win.

Buddy Hield led the Pacers with 24 points, and Bennedict Mathurin had 19. Tyrese Haliburton had 16 points and 12 assists.

The Pacers stormed back in the fourth, keyed by Hield’s 3 that pulled them within one and a Mathurin bucket on a goaltending call during a 10-0 run.

The Sixers pulled ahead on Melton’s fourth 3 of the game, but Hield hit a 3 and Myles Turner scored for a 120-116 lead.

Philly is now 23-14, just 2 1/2 games behind first place Boston in the Eastern conference.

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