Andre Drummond Training Camp; Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Philadelphia 76ers (2-1) visited Detroit to face the Pistons (1-2). It was the Sixers’ final preseason tune-up before the start of the regular season. The Sixers rallied from a 22-point deficit to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but ultimately fell short of a victory.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid and Danny Green, who were being rested. Tobias Harris (sore right knee), Shake Milton (sprained right ankle), Matisse Thybulle (sore right shoulder), and Grant Riller (left knee surgery) were also unavailable. Ben Simmons, who is in the competition reconditioning stage of his return, also missed the game.

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Andre Drummond.

The Pistons were without Cade Cunningham and Jared Cunningham, who were nursing a sprained right ankle and strained right hamstring, respectively. Killian Hayes (concussion) and Saddiq Bey (sprained left ankle) were unavailable. Isaiah Livers (surgery on right foot), Chris Smith (left knee surgery), Cassius Stanley (sore right knee), and Derrick Walton Jr (migraine) were also unavailable.

Dwane Casey started Saben Lee, Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson, Jerami Grant, and Isaiah Stewart.

First Half

Andre Drummond received heavy boos from the Detroit crowd whenever the ball was in his hands early in the game. I’ll willingly admit I haven’t watched many Pistons games in my life. But Drummond was a two-time All-Star on Detroit teams that had First Round ceilings. His tenure ended when he was traded to Cleveland. So what exactly did he do to warrant boos from Pistons fans?

Tyrese Maxey is growing increasingly confident with finishing on the left side of the basket off of dribble penetration. By nature, that means he’s becoming more comfortable with using his off hand. His combination of speed and craftiness makes the ability to finish with either hand critical to his effectiveness as an under-sized guard. It also reinforces that the Sixers finally have a modern point guard who can function in various environments.

Secondary Assists

Drummond’s ability to thread needles when passing to cutters is going to create open three-point looks all over the floor if the recipient of his pass is willing to make the extra pass. Early in the second quarter, Drummond found a cutting Isaiah Joe despite the pass being a bit off the mark. But Joe’s presence close to the rim forced Detroit’s defense to converge to protect the basket. Cutters will be able to relieve that defensive convergence by making quick swing-passes to the weak-side corner (the easiest open look when multiple helpers converge on the paint).

Whether it’s Danny Green, Seth Curry, or someone else, Drummond is going to catalyze open shots and be credited with secondary assists as long as the Sixers remain true to being selfless and passing the rock. Perhaps it won’t always show up in the box score, but the free agent pick-up is going to facilitate a significant load of safety-pin offense on possessions in which nothing else is working.

The Pistons were (rightfully) targeting Seth Curry on defense often in the second quarter. It wasn’t in the traditional sense, though. They were making a concerted effort to set pin-down screens for Curry’s man (Frank Jackson, in many cases) and forcing him to fight through the screens. If he couldn’t get through them, the recipient of the screen was getting open triples. If Curry fought through, the screen would cause him to rub the shooter, daring the officials to charge him with shooting fouls. That’s not something that’s going to go away. It’s a weakness that the Sixers have to tolerate because of what Curry provides on the offensive end of the floor.

Second Half

Doc Rivers has mentioned the idea of going small in lineups with Georges Niang during camp. I naturally interpret that as meaning Niang will be playing center in such lineups. Assuming that interpretation is correct, those lineups are going to really struggle on defense and on the glass.

If Niang plays up on ball screens, handlers are going to burst by him and pressure the interior. If he’s in drop coverage, handlers will have the space to pull up for jumpers. Niang lacks the vertical athleticism to pop and collect rebounds over bigger competition. He’s going to have to hold a box-out if the hope is that he’ll draw over-the-back fouls when athletic rebounders try to get the advantage over him. But living with a strategy based in officials consistently making the right calls feels like bad business.

It might be time to declare a ‘Time of Death’ on Paul Reed’s chances of breaking the rotation to start the season. As energetic and innately-witted as Reed is, he’s simply an athlete with natural defensive prowess right now. There are not enough NBA-ready skills there to justify giving him minutes when Drummond has had such an impressive preseason.

The Fourth Quarter Showcase

Rivers turned the fourth quarter over to the first-and-second-year Sixers who had something to prove. So, the closing lineup featured Shaquille Harrison, Jaden Springer, Aaron Henry, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey. They impressed with a rally to erase a nine-point opening deficit to tie the game with less than four minutes to play in regulation.

The closing unit didn’t play selfishly to showcase their individual games. They treated the fourth quarter like a regulation game. In other words, they played to win. The closing lineup moved the ball, attacked the rim, boxed out, and defended with grit and communication.

Paul Reed showcased his ability to lead on the court in that stint. He played with purpose on both ends and navigated the offense to his organic strengths. Reed simply used his athleticism and footwork to get to the rim and leveraged the glass to score comfortably. 

Charles Bassey wanted to prove that he was worth holding out in contracting negotiations in his extended run. In the fourth he comfortably stepped beyond the arc to knock in a corner triple and lurked to the paint to record a dunk on a dump-off in a 45-second span. On the defensive side, he blocked a pull-up jumper off dribble penetration.   

The next time you watch the Sixers live, they’ll be visiting the Pelicans in New Orleans on opening night. Tip-off is set for 8 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.