Those Philadelphia 76ers (46-21) were back in action on Saturday night. They hosted the Detroit Pistons (20-47). It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Sixers, who survived their own poor play against the Pelicans to scratch out their seventh consecutive victory on Friday night. The Pistons, on the other hand, were looking to win their second game in a row. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 51 points on 24 field goal attempts, and the Sixers breezed to their eighth straight victory.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Pistons were without Hamidou Diallo (personal reasons), Josh Jackson (right tooth surgery), Rodney McGruder (sprained right elbow), and Dennis Smith Jr (sore left knee). Dwane Casey started Cory Joseph, Wayne Ellington, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee.
The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (back tightness), Seth Curry (left hip injury recovery), and Furkan Korkmaz (sprained right ankle). Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Danny Green has some sneaky hops. You typically don’t see 3-and-D role players channel their inner springinesses, especially when those players are typically playing below the rim. But, Danny Green has shown some ability to get up for open dunks. That has and will be more impactful on the defensive end of the floor.
He doesn’t have the agility or feet to keep up with younger, more explosive guards. But, he’s a threat to pin the ball on the backboard when opponents leave finishes to chance instead of throwing down dunks. Not just in this game against Detroit, but the entire season, Green has sparked run-outs by flashing into the play to block a shot off the backboard from the rear side. It may only help the Sixers on a handful of plays in the postseason. But, there is no downside in the team having slightly more vertical athleticism than originally thought.
I would say the league has received the memo that they can play the Sixers’ reserves off the floor by going to the 2-3 zone. I suspect that solution will fade a bit when Furkan Korkmaz returns to the bench. But, he’s also not exactly lights out from deep. Even when Korkmaz has 0-for games, he’s going to make defenses stress when they go zone. Perhaps, I’m even understating the impact he’ll have. Maybe his mere presence scares defenses away from going to the zone to begin with. Whatever the case, I would venture to say the quiet impact of Korkmaz’s absence is that defenses feel comfortable zoning the bench unit. That zone has been why the offense has stalled significantly while the starters rest lately.
“We want them to put as much pressure on the other team by going downhill as anyone can, and he’s doing that.”
Tyrese Maxey appeared very prepared for a rare start tonight. I would imagine that Rivers was quite content with his play in the first half, too. When Maxey caught the ball, he was attacking on a straight line and begging for contact instead of shying away from it. Rivers preaches quick decision-making and straight line-drives after catching on the perimeter. Maxey was his usual quick self. But, he was reading what the Pistons showed and reacting on a dime without thinking twice. I talk about dribble penetration and how it pulls defenses out of rotation all the time, and Maxey’s penetration was not an exception to that principle. His pressure lifted Detroit’s interior up, and it created space around the rim for him to knife into scores or create plays for his teammates.
After the victory over the Pistons, Rivers touched on how straight line-drive play is beneficial for players like Maxey. “Just certain players, him, Tobias would be the two here, for sure. Ben, as well,” Rivers said. “But, Tyrese is really the only one, I guess you could throw Ben in that category, with break-away speed, I guess if we were talking in football terms. We want them to use it. We want them to put as much pressure on the other team by going downhill as anyone can, and he’s doing that.”
Matisse Thybulle left the game after getting his left hand caught under Grant’s foot diving for a steal early in the third quarter. He returned just a few minutes later and was seemingly fine.
Embiid tweaked his left knee (the one he injured earlier this season), was visibly uncomfortable for a moment, and then fell violently a possession later and looked a bit shaken up. He seemed fine walking off the court, and it very well might be nothing. But, it underscores an important goal for the Sixers over these last five games. Until they clinch the 1-seed, the goal should be to lock in and get these games decided as quickly as possible.
Ideally, Embiid wouldn’t sniff the court after the third quarter in these last few games. Rivers has hinted that he would like to lock up seeding before resting his guys. I would agree with that sentiment. But, the Sixers’ closing schedule is laughably easy. They should not need Embiid out there to battle through close victories against inferior competition. It doesn’t matter what seed Philly has if Embiid has to miss significant time due to injury. The longer he’s forced to play, the higher the injury risk is.
Balancing Clark Kent And Superman
Dwight Howard splashed a corner triple towards the end of the third quarter. He then air-balled one by six feet (I am laughing as I type this) a possession later. Given that the Sixers were beating the Pistons by double digits and both attempts came at the end of the shot clock, I have no problem with the attempts. In fact, I think it’s extremely important to have an emotional veteran leader that can walk the line.
If your veteran leader is too silly, the young guys might not listen when he’s serious. If he’s too serious all the time, that can turn the youngsters off and push them away. Howard does both very well, it seems. And, his teammates clearly love having him around. There have been frustrating fouls, technicals, and turnovers. But, Howard has been quite effective on the glass and in the middle this season. Given the minimum contract he signed, the Dwight experience has largely been a positive in Philadelphia.
The Sixers (47-21) will head to Indiana to face the Pacers (31-35) on Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 8 PM EST. You can watch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.