The Sixers (17-12) hosted the Detroit Pistons (8-25) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to push its winning streak to six games. Detroit aimed to snap a three-game skid. A balanced night from Joel Embiid was plenty enough to silence the Pistons, 113-93.
Before we get to the action, some context is due.
The Pistons were without the services of Cade Cunningham, who will miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his left tibia.
Isaiah Livers has a sprained right shoulder and was out.
Braxton Key and Buddy Boeheim are on Two-Way assignments with Detroit’s G-League affiliate and were unavailable.
Dwane Casey started Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, and Jalen Duren.
The Sixers were without Tyrese Maxey, who is recovering from a small fracture in his left foot.
Doc Rivers had no update on Maxey’s progress when asked about it before the game. There has been no further reporting to refute Adrian Wojnarowski’s assertion on ESPN that Maxey would return by Christmas Day. The Sixers have one more game before they visit the New York Knicks on Christmas Day, hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
Jaden Springer is on a G-League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was unavailable. Julian Champagnie and Saben Lee are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.
Rivers started James Harden, De’Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
After Philadelphia’s relationship with the three-point shot soured a bit in the win over the Raptors, the Sixers used it as the great separator in the first half of this game. Embiid was the catalyst of that. He invited help defenders to close driving angles and add pressure to the ball. His teammates benefitted from Detroit doing what they could only logically do to try to hinder the big guy, launching it off the catch without second thoughts. Even if Embiid didn’t get the assist, his quick passes once the helper committed drew Detroit into rotations, leaving the eventual shooter open on the perimeter.
What especially stood out was that Embiid really wasn’t trying to dominate as a scorer, at least not in the first quarter-plus. He turned down a rhythm three from near the top of the arc. The big guy instead elected to put the ball on the floor and create something for a teammate. And just as if he were a point guard with a 20-year career’s worth of experience, Embiid got exactly what he was looking for out of that decision. When the help came, he belted the ball out to Georges Niang for the quality of look at a three you only get in post-practice shooting drills.
Embiid actively sought every which way he could to create touches for his teammates. But, he and everyone in the building knew he could apply himself to put whichever Piston was in his way through the rim on Wednesday. He dabbled in some hard drives to the rim from both the baseline and the slot. Embiid pivoted and reverse-pivoted in circles to spin defenders out of his way. He gunned in midrange jumpers, too. The diversity of his scoring served as a reminder for Detroit of what he was capable of doing if he really put his mind to it or the game called for it. But, he found open teammates all first half long. Embiid went out of his way to find those teammates after using his gravity to create open looks for them.
No one had to work particularly hard, either. The Sixers were stepping into open threes within the first or second pass the entire first 24 minutes of the game.
Harden’s passing game on the leak-out in transition is just lethal for opposing defenses. He floated a handful of passes up the court to teammates ahead of the pack in this game. Those efforts create easy buckets for the Sixers without needing Embiid on the floor. Harden’s example inspired teamwork from other Sixers, too. Matisse Thybulle made the extra pass after Harden roped the ball to him in transition, lobbing to Montrezl Harrell for a dunk. They needed two passes to go the length of the floor for a bucket, and I’m not sure they needed one dribble.
On the topic of Harden’s passing, he’s starting to rediscover some of the chemistry he had with Harrell in Houston. He found Harrell slicing to the basket out of a side pick-and-roll the other night, nutmegging a Raptor to feed his cutting teammate. Harden sensed a similar opportunity in the first quarter. He threaded the needle to dime up Harrell on a dive to the hoop. Harrell, by the way, has sneakily improved as a finisher in recent games. He held strong under the basket on one memorable possession in his first stint of the game, weathering the contact before rising up for a two-handed dunk. That type of power and toughness was a staple of Harrell’s prime.
I’ll give some credit to Thybulle’s first-half showing, too. There were some bad moments. He got dusted by Ivey when he gave the young guard a driving lane. He also allowed a Piston to dash in from the weak side for a putback because he didn’t box out. But, Thybulle kept his head in the game and moved onto the next play, snatching the ball away from Detroit in the backcourt twice in the second quarter to create transition opportunities for the Sixers.
Embiid picked up the vibrancy on defense in the second half. He tortured the Pistons at the rim, flashing just enough aggression to scare them into missing close shots or just swatting the ball away before it even got to the basket.
Always a good thing when you win and everyone on the roster plays. The Sixers have done that a little more frequently in recent games. So, good for the guys deep on the bench. And from a team perspective, they’ve had a couple nice blowouts on this home-stand. That’s always a good sign that things are coming together.
Viewers were treated to some scatterbrained Danuel House Jr. in the first half of this one. He tried to create space for a stepback three, no dice. He tried to crossover and drive, no dice. Struggling with his dribble like a kid in a schoolyard, House ate up a considerable amount of clock before eventually throwing up a one-handed fading three that didn’t have a prayer. He then also got stuck with the ball on the baseline late in the first half. He resorted to throwing up a shot from behind the backboard that barely tipped the rim after his attempt to drive went awry. To be fair, the second play was more induced by his working against the clock ahead of halftime. But, two Shaqtin’ A Fool moments for the “No, no, yes!” King in the first half.
He was back for more in the second half! House turned down a catch-and-shoot three in transition in favor of a stepback, only to leave it very short of the basket. Hopefully he gets a nice check for all the content he gave Shaqtin’.
It didn’t hurt them at all, but Rivers deployed an all-bench lineup of Shake Milton, Thybulle, House Jr., Georges Niang, and Harrell for the last three minutes and change of the third quarter. They were fortunate on this night. But, there’s no shot-creation in that group. Rivers did it the other night for a few minutes at the end of the third quarter against Toronto. The lead completely evaporated. I’ll assume it’s more a product of Maxey not being back yet. But, don’t tempt fate and make that a thing when you have four very good players you can stagger so that there’s never an all-bench lineup. Just not even remotely necessary.
Not that it mattered in the end, but it felt like the Sixers missed a dozen layups in this game. Some were at very disadvantageous angles or were made more difficult by the amount of contact the Sixers took to get them up. But, a layup is a layup. This is the NBA.
The Sixers (18-12) will host the Los Angeles Clippers (19-14) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.