Sixers-Pistons observations: Surviving after disastrous 3rd quarter

Sixers-Pistons observations: Surviving after disastrous 3rd quarter


The Sixers were playing the Pistons, but they looked like their own toughest opponents. Not Andre Drummond. Not Tobias Harris. The Sixers were beating themselves.

The Sixers had been skating their way to a victory with a 16-point halftime lead. A second win of the season against the Pistons seemed easy enough.

Then the turnovers began to pile up in the third, and after committing nine, the Sixers found themselves tied at the end of the quarter. The Pistons outscored the Sixers 33-17 in the quarter while shooting 52.9 percent from the field. The Sixers didn’t make a trip to the line, contrasted with 11 for 13 shooting there by the Pistons in the third.

It was back to the drawing board in the fourth, where the Sixers had 12 minutes to try to reclaim everything they had worked for in the first half. They broke an 89-89 tie with seven minutes remaining and stayed ahead of the Pistons for the rest of the game. Drummond fouled out with 2:35 to go and less than a minute later, Dario Saric drew the entire arena to its feet for an eruption of cheer with a key three to push the lead to eight.

The Sixers improved to 13-9 while the Pistons stand at 14-8.

• The Joel Embiid vs. Drummond matchup didn’t turn out to be as heated as expected, but in the end, Embiid drew Drummond’s sixth foul and sent him to the bench for the final 2:35. Pistons reserve Eric Moreland actually committed one of the more physical fouls against Embiid. Sixers fans clearly were aware of Drummond’s comments about Embiid (see story). They booed him every time he touched the ball early on and gave him a standing ovation for fouling out. Embiid finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Drummond had 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals.

• Ben Simmons scored only five of the Sixers' 108 points. He attempted a mere six field goal attempts (2 for 6) and did not get to the line until the fourth. His previous season low was 10 points, having scored in double-digits every other game. Simmons still contributed with 10 rebounds and six assists. He picked up a Flagrant One foul in the fourth period after his elbow caught Stanley Johnson in the face (see video).

• Robert Covington overcame his three-point shooting skid (6 for 13). He drained a pair of treys in the first quarter, key in establishing rhythm for the remainder of the game. Covington, who had been above 50 percent this season, shot 9 for 36 in his previous three games.

• Harris and Reggie Jackson continue to have standout seasons for the Pistons. They combined for 52 points.

• Drummond’s free throw form is effective and certainly unique with a low squat before the release. But hey, it works for the 6-foot-11 big man (6 for 8 from the line). His average is up to 63.9 percent from 38.6 percent last season.

• Injury update: Markelle Fultz (shoulder) is receiving physical therapy in Kentucky. Justin Anderson (left leg) and T.J. McConnell (left shoulder) remain out. Jahlil Okafor was inactive again. Jon Leuer (left ankle) was out for the Pistons.

• The Sixers surprised Philadelphia basketball pioneer Sonny Hill with a tribute during halftime. Allen Iverson made a special appearance to escort Hill to center court for the presentation, which commemorated his nearly 60 years of involvement with the game. The Sixers announced the new Sonny Hill Legacy Award, established to recognize youth who show high character on and off the court.

• Phillies J.P. Crawford and Rhys Hoskins rang the ceremonial bell, donning personalized Sixers jerseys. They met and talked with Simmons before the game in the locker room.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

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What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”