The Sixers (24-15) hosted the Detroit Pistons (11-32) on Tuesday. Philadelphia wanted to sweep the home-and-home set with the Pistons. Detroit wanted to right its wrongs from Sunday’s loss to the Sixers. The Sixers destroyed the Pistons in Joel Embiid’s return, 147-116.
Before we get to the game, 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 shin.
Bojan Bogdanovic has a sore right calf and was unavailable. Jalen Duren missed the game with a sore right ankle. Marvin Bagley III was out with metacarpal fractures in his right hand.
Isaiah Livers has a sprained right shoulder and was unavailable.
Buddy Boeheim is on a Two-Way assignment with Detroit’s G-League affiliate and was out.
Dwane Casey started Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey, Kevin Knox II, and Nerlens Noel.
The Sixers were without Louis King and Julian Champagnie, who are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats.
Doc Rivers started James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, and Joel Embiid.
Most nights see Embiid get the first few touches of the game, the Sixers looking to establish their superstar and get him in rhythm on offense. But, Tuesday was not most nights. Harris was the recipient of the first few shots, Harden and company happy to feed him on mismatches at the mid-post and lower. Harris, operating out of his treasured 15-feet-and-in spots, snapped the nylon on his first two attempts. He then heat-checked on a pull-up triple from the right wing, lacing Philadelphia’s first seven points of the game.
Often an afterthought in the Sixers’ offense, Philadelphia should look to establish Harris any time they can. It’s not about pecking order or forcing things at the expense of the offense’s organic flow. Rather, it’s about keeping the fourth option warm and engaged because there will be a time when the Sixers need him to step up against good opponents. And he’s going to need to be confident in himself when that time comes. No one is going to protest any of the Sixers’ featured three putting up big numbers. But, it may be best for the team down the line if the players invest in Harris a little more on a night-to-night basis.
I don’t know whether it’s because he knows it’s getting close to All-Star selection time, but Harden has been a different player on the defensive glass recently. The Beard collected eight defensive rebounds before halftime, and finished off his second consecutive triple-double against the Pistons with a defensive board midway through the third quarter. That, of course, came after he piled up 10 boards in the first half against Detroit on Sunday.
He’s not doing it on the offensive glass, so it would be fairly dishonest to say he’s winning the effort plays. He’s very good at sneaking to the basket while most others on the court are getting back in transition. So, Harden grabs the rock as it pops off the rim without having to fight with a crowd around the basket. But, the Sixers struggle so much on the glass, they’ll take the rebounds any way they can get them. Philadelphia, by the way, was plus-26 on the glass early in the fourth quarter of this one. Utterly dominant. But, I wouldn’t say the Pistons consistently tried to make them work on the glass, either.
As easily as Harden coasted to his triple-double on Sunday, Embiid put up maybe the easiest 36 points of his career. The foul-line-and-in jumper was automatic in the first half. It turned into a recreational league game in the third quarter. The Pistons had little to no interest in stopping Embiid from running down the middle of the floor for some easy buckets. Embiid then topped it off with a barrage of free throws, the Pistons deciding to give a damn and foul him each time down until Rivers subbed him out for the night.
I asked for an absolute ass-whooping in Sunday’s game column because I felt like the Sixers kept putting Detroit on the ropes, only to let them make it at least a little interesting again. Not the case in this one. A total annihilation from the second quarter on. Even Jaden Springer scored a handful of points in the fourth quarter. That’s right, the former first-round pick that spends more time driving the roads between Delaware and Philadelphia than actually playing basketball. He checked into the game early in the fourth quarter and proceeded to get in on the party.
The Pistons are so horrendously bad that it becomes very difficult for you to learn much of anything about the Sixers. Other than maybe test out some new plays, nothing they can do means much against a good team because it’s difficult to know if it will translate. Still, you’ll take a few more laughers here and there if that’s the only expense.
Before he scored the easiest 36 points ever, Embiid looked a touch rusty. It manifested mostly in turnover issues. On his first touch of the game, he lifted into a jumper, only for Noel to slap down and jar the ball away from him. There was also an offensive foul on a roll to the basket and an off-target pass that was picked off in the open court. I don’t think three games qualifies as a long absence. But, those are mistakes you make if you haven’t played in a while. Not Embiid’s most engaged first quarter.
The Sixers committed 17 turnovers in this game. And I wouldn’t credit a good chunk of those to pristine Detroit defense. Their focus was inconsistent at best. But, you turn the ball over that many times — and lose the possession battle, in fact — and still smoke the opponent, the other team is rolling over for you just as much as you’re beating them up.
The Sixers (25-15) will host the Oklahoma City Thunder (18-22) on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.