PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers won their first game of the 2022-23 season against the Indiana Pacers. In what was as much of a must-win contest as there could be for the fourth game out of 82, the Sixers won 120-106 in front of the home crowd.

James Harden recorded 29 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds to lead the way for the Sixers. Joel Embiid had 26 points and three blocks, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and eight rebounds. For the Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton had 19 points and 10 assists, Buddy Hield had 18 points and six boards and Bennedict Mathurin and Jalen Smith each scored 17 points. Smith also notched 10 boards.

Defensively, the Sixers played a decent game. Although they blocked shots, the Pacers found ways to get open looks at three-pointers. They made only 27.3 percent of their triples and excelled in transition, so this game could have been another bad one for Philly if its offense was stagnant again. However, that was not the case.

On offense, the Sixers showed some serious progress. It came at the perfect time, as they are about to play the Toronto Raptors, whose defense gave them fits in last year’s playoffs, in two straight games at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday and Friday.

Before that battle begins, let’s reflect on the biggest reasons why the Sixers picked up their first win of the season against the Pacers.

3. Increased tempo

As James Harden explained after the game, the Sixers played with more pace on Monday. They were less sluggish bringing the ball up and didn’t waste time trying to get into their offense, which worked wonders.

Rivers said the Sixers played with more pace after stressing it leading into the season and following each of their early losses. That increased urgency put the Pacers’ defense in a tough spot. Facing pressure going toward the rim so often, they had no choice but to sink in. Time after time, the Sixers forced the Indy defense to collapse inward, giving the Sixers room to launch open shots from beyond the arc.

The Sixers ended up taking over half of their shots from deep, going 19-of-43. Tobias Harris took 10 3-point attempts, the most he has attempted since November 2019, and cashed in on four of them. Rivers mentioned last week he wants his team to launch more triples, and Philly obliged versus the Pacers.

2. Ball movement

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The Sixers didn’t just get into their offense quickly and fire up shots, but also kept the ball moving when they didn’t get anything going in the initial set-up. With 25 assists and just seven turnovers, Philly got into a great rhythm offensively.

Led by Harden’s 11 assists, Philadelphia had six players record at least two assists. Joel Embiid finished with just two helpers, but threw numerous smart, timely passes when the defense closed in on him, as well as some backdoor feeds that were the result of off-ball movement—key to the offense when the perennial MVP candidate sets up shop in the post.

“It’s hard to play a team that has Joel Embiid on the floor that wants to pass,” Rivers said. “It really is, because either you have to guard him one-on-one or we’re gonna get shots, and that’s what happened tonight.”

Embiid said that having ball movement when he posts up allows him to attack in various ways. He certainly showed what it can do for him and the Sixers against the Pacers.

1. The Sixers bench stepped up

The Sixers’ bench finally came alive against the Pacers. After being mostly non-factors for the first three games, Philly’s reserves combined for 36 points after scoring only 34 in the previous three games combined.

De’Anthony Melton scored 11 points, collected five rebounds and was a disruptive presence on defense. Georges Niang converted three of his six attempts from deep and contributed 13 points. Montrezl Harrell only scored five points, all of which came in less than a minute of game time in the first quarter, but he did a marvelous job of drawing fouls. Danuel House Jr. added six points of his own. The final point came on a garbage-time free throw by Jaden Springer.

“We were flying around out there,” Niang said. “[As] the bench unit, most nights, you wanna come in and bring energy and impact the game and that’s what we were able to do. We got to a couple of loose balls, closed out some defensive possessions to get out and run. When you make shots, the game is a lot easier.”

Although the Sixers have some things to tidy up, namely transition defense, their win over the Pacers is a crucial step in the right direction.