Contributing to Sixers’ wire-to-wire victory against Pistons throughout: likes and dislikes
The Sixers (17-12) hosted the Detroit Pistons (8-25) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning streak to six games. Detroit wanted to break a three-game skid. A balanced night from Joel Embiid was enough to silence the Pistons, 113-93.
Before we get to the action, there needs to be some context.
The Pistons were without the services of Cade Cunningham, who will miss the rest 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 have two-way assignments at 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 minor fracture in his left foot.
Doc Rivers had no update on Maxey’s progress when asked before the game. There has been no further reporting to refute Adrian Wojnarowski’s claim on ESPN that Maxey would return on Christmas Day. The Sixers have one more game to play before visiting the New York Knicks on Christmas Day, which will host 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 a Two-Way G-League assignment 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 big separator in the first half of this game. Embiid was the catalyst for that. He invited defenders to close the driving corners and put pressure on the ball. His teammates took advantage of Detroit doing what they could only logically do to try and hinder the big man, launching him off the catch with no qualms. Even if Embiid didn’t get the assist, his quick passes after the helper turned in sent Detroit into rotations, leaving the eventual shooter open at the rim.
What was especially striking was that Embiid really didn’t try to dominate as a goalscorer, at least not in the first quarter plus. He hit a beat three off the top of the arc. The big man instead opted to put the ball on the ground and create something for a teammate. And just like being a point guard with 20 years of career experience, Embiid got exactly what he was looking for out of that decision. When help came, he hit the ball to Georges Niang for the quality of watching a three you only get in post-training target practice.
Embiid actively looked for every possible way to create touches for his teammates. But he and everyone in the building knew he could commit to pushing any Piston that got in his way through the edge on Wednesday. He slogged into a few hard drives to the edge of both the baseline and the slot. Embiid twisted and turned in circles to turn defenders out of his way. He also shot mid-range jerseys. The diversity of his scores reminded Detroit of what he was capable of if he really put his mind to it or if the game called for it. But he found open teammates throughout the first half. Embiid went out of his way to find those teammates after using his gravity to create open cans for them.
No one had to work particularly hard either. The Sixers stepped into open threes within the first or second pass for the entire first 24 minutes of the game.
Harden’s passing play on the run out in transition is simply lethal to the opposing defense. He drove a handful of passes down the field to teammates leading the way in this game. Those efforts create easy buckets for the Sixers without the need for Embiid on the floor. Harden’s example also inspired teamwork from other Sixers. Matisse Thybulle made the extra pass after Harden knotted the ball to him in transition and lobbied Montrezl Harrell for a dunk. It took them two passes to go the length of the floor for a bucket, and I’m not sure they needed one dribble.
As for Harden’s passing, he’s starting to rediscover some of the chemistry he had with Harrell in Houston. He recently found Harrell slicing from a pick-and-roll on the side to the basket one evening while making a Raptor nutmeg to feed his slicing teammate. Harden sensed a similar opportunity in the first quarter. He threaded the needle to prank Harrell during a dive to the hoop. By the way, Harrell has secretly improved as a finisher in recent games. He held strong under the basket on a memorable possession in his first stint of play, withstood the contact before getting up for a two-handed dunk. That kind of strength and toughness was a staple of Harrell’s prime.
I will also give some credit to Thybulle’s performance in the first half. There were some bad moments. He was dusted off by Ivey when he gave the young guard a lane. He also allowed a Piston to charge in from the weak side for a putback because he didn’t punch out. But Thybulle kept his mind on the game and went on to the next play, snatching the ball from Detroit in the backcourt twice in the second quarter to create transition opportunities for the Sixers.
Embiid picked up the liveliness of the defense in the second half. He tortured the Pistons to the rim, flashing just enough aggression to scare them into missing shots at close range or just swatting the ball away before it even reached the basket.
Always a good thing when you win and everyone on the roster plays. The Sixers have done that a little more often in recent games. So good for the guys deep in the couch. And from a team perspective, they’ve had some nice bursts on this home stand. That’s always a good sign that things are coming together.
Viewers were treated to an absent-minded Danuel House Jr. in the first half of this one. He tried to create space for a step back three, with no dice. He tried to cross and drive, with no dice. Struggling with his dribble like a kid in a schoolyard, House ate a considerable amount of clock before eventually throwing up a one-handed fading three that had no prayer. Then he also came to the baseline with the ball late in the first half. He resorted to throwing a shot from behind the backboard that barely hit the rim after his drive attempt went awry. To be fair, the second game was caused more by him working against the clock before the break. 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 rejected a catch-and-shoot three in transition in favor of stepping back, but left it very short of the basket. Hopefully he gets a nice check for all the content he gave to 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 through the final three minutes and the third-quarter substitution. They were lucky on this night. But there is no shot creation in that group. Rivers did it for a few minutes at the end of the third quarter against Toronto last night. The lead has completely evaporated. I guess it’s more a product of Maxey not being back yet. But don’t tempt fate and make it a thing when you have four very good players that you can stagger so that there’s never an all-bank lineup. Just not even remotely needed.
Not that it mattered in the end, but it felt like the Sixers missed a dozen layups in this game. Some were at very unfavorable angles or complicated 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. The tip is set at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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