If there was a sliver of hope going into this one, it was that Indiana was playing its third game in as many nights, including a makeup game from earlier this season. But the Pacers are tough, deep and play relentless defense. And, when you're as good as the Pacers (31-19), you can do all those things even if a hint of fatigue creeps throughout your team.
"They are really good," said Jrue Holiday, who finished 7-for-22 from the floor for 19 points to go along with six rebounds, five turnovers and four assists. "They play within themselves. I think everybody knows their role and they share the ball really well. Just a really solid team, defensively and offensively."
The Pacers offense wasn't as sharp as it has been, as their outside shooting wasn't there (only 18-for-46 outside the paint). But they were able to bull their way to the basket when needed and outscored the Sixers, 19-5, at the foul line.
Indiana's defense, among the best in the NBA, was spot-on as the Pacers' length rarely allowed the Sixers an open look, and their physicality pushed an already suspect low-post offense even farther from the basket.
"They are physical, that's who they are," said Collins, whose team dropped to 21-27. "Early in the game, I just kept telling our guys to get the ball up the floor quickly, please push the ball up the floor, get some early offense. We dribbled the ball too much tonight, did not move the ball side-to-side. They can get you in the mud, and that's what they did. They got us where we just stood around. They threw the ball in the post and pound you either with [Roy] Hibbert [18 points, 14 rebounds] or [Tyler] Hansbrough or [Paul] George [15 points, six assists] or David West [15 points].
"Our shooting at halftime, I think our starters were 6-for-31. We looked like the team that played 10 games in 10 nights. That's the kind of energy we played with. Teams that get into us frustrate us, and then what usually happens is we start dribbling too much. And as much as I kept telling them to move the ball, the ball stuck. We were not mentally into the game."
And when the roster is depleted as much as it is right now, it's almost impossible to stay in it physically. After playing the first 6-plus minutes of the game, center Kwame Brown was done for the night. It was Brown's fourth appearance in the past 15 games, as he has mostly been a spectator. He clearly isn't ready to play heavy minutes, which means Lavoy Allen had to carry almost 35 minutes, much of it trying to cover the 7-2 Hibbert. And when he wasn't doing it, rookie Arnett Moultrie was assigned the unenviable task. That's just how it is at this point for the Sixers.
"Physically, most of the guys didn't have a whole lot, but we were tied together defensively," West said. "I thought we made it our kind of game, in terms of just making them grind out possessions, and even though we didn't have our legs, we made them finish over us and through us, and fouled a little bit. We've been able to win games like that all year."
West wasn't kidding when he said "a little bit" concerning the fouling. Indiana was called for only eight fouls. In Monday's game against the Sixers, Orlando was called for only five. That's a testament to how timid the Sixers have been in drawing contact, a persistent problem all season.
"They beat us on the boards, they got the ball inside," Collins said. "But we had 50 shots in the paint. I couldn't find anything out there that even remotely could help our guys tonight. It was very frustrating from my standpoint that I couldn't get our team more help. Without Thad out there, we've lost speed that's at the front end of our break and the easy baskets he gets us. And they shoot 25 free throws and we shoot seven."
Though reports were circulating Wednesday night that guard Jason Richardson was going to have season-ending surgery, the team announced after the game that he will get a fourth opinion as early as Thursday on his ailing left knee.
On Twitter: @BobCooney76