The Sixers on Thursday night ensured the Pistons remain the NBA’s last team this season without a win.
Joel Embiid is aware of Detroit’s record and was certainly not thrilled with how the Sixers moved to 3-2.
“We need to get way better,” Embiid said following a 110-102 home victory in which he posted 30 points and 18 rebounds. “No disrespect to Detroit, but they haven’t won a game so we can’t be happy about our performance tonight. There’s nothing to be happy about. But as a team, we just played New York. It was a different energy level. They were tougher than us, more physical. They got what they wanted. We couldn’t guard our own men. We need to be way better defensively than we have been. We’ve got to guard our own men.
“Right now we just haven’t been able to do so, and it creates a lot of rotations, and teams are making a lot of threes. Like you saw tonight, when they made that run it was because we can’t guard our own man, and they just penetrated. And that causes a lot of help, and you’ve got to rotate all over the place. We need to be way better on the defensive end, starting with containing our own men.”
Embiid might’ve been a touch more satisfied if the Sixers managed a somewhat routine finish. After a Matisse Thybulle dunk gave them a 100-78 lead with 6:34 remaining, they conceded a 16-1 Detroit run. Six days earlier, the Nets pulled off an identical run.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers put his starters back in after the Pistons’ initial 8-0 spurt, meaning Embiid spent five extra minutes on a right knee that’s been sore since a first-quarter collision last Wednesday.
With his knee wrapped up postgame, Embiid reiterated there are “no excuses” and said he’s “fine.”
“I’m just trying to be available for my teammates every single night, playing hard,” he said. “Try to do the best job I can. ... Obviously I come in with the mindset of playing as many games as I can. And this year obviously that first game is unfortunate. It happened; I got hit during the first, so it kind of handicapped me.
“But you’ve got to come in with the mindset that I’ve got play more games than I have in the past. And so far I’m on the right path. Whatever I’m needed to do, I’m going to be doing.”
The most games Embiid has ever played in a regular season is 64. He started the 2018-19 campaign by playing in 26 consecutive games but missed eight in a row immediately after the All-Star break due to left knee tendinitis. That injury lingered and impacted him during the postseason.
Neither Embiid nor the Sixers have indicated any deep concern about his current injury — Rivers said pregame “there’s no serious injuries right now” on the team — which suggests, as long as the next day-plus goes fine, that Embiid will be eager to suit up Saturday night. The Sixers will play the Hawks for the first time since their seven-game second-round series loss to Atlanta in June.
While the team could do a thorough analysis of how and why Thursday’s large lead dissipated, Tyrese Maxey boiled it down to something simple.
“We relaxed,” Maxey said. “You can’t relax. As a team, you don’t take your foot off the gas. You’ve just got to bury teams and just keep going for all 48 minutes. If you take your foot off the gas and give a team light, they see the finish line.”
For Embiid and the Sixers, the regular-season finish line is 77 games away.