Joel Embiid's return to the lineup Tuesday night featured zero drama and lots of points.
Embiid scored 36 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes as the Sixers cruised to a 147-116 blowout win over the Pistons at Wells Fargo Center.
In 26 minutes, James Harden recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds.
Embiid was back after three games on the sidelines because of left foot soreness. P.J. Tucker also returned following one game out with a non-COVID illness.
Detroit was very shorthanded Tuesday night. With Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Stewart among the Pistons out, the team dropped to 11-33.
Next up for the 25-15 Sixers is a meeting Thursday night in Philadelphia with the Thunder. Here are observations on their win Tuesday:
Sixers take control vs. overmatched opponent
Nerlens Noel started for the first time this season and matched up against an old friend in Embiid.
He had a couple of positive moments early. Noel stripped Embiid as he went up for a mid-range jumper, took a charge on him, and wasn’t immediately overwhelmed the way many opposing centers have been.
Tobias Harris still got the Sixers off to a fast start, posting the team’s first seven points on two tough jumpers inside the arc and a pull-up three-pointer. Embiid then scored a fast-break dunk thanks to Harden scanning ahead, seeing him in the frontcourt, and firing the ball to his big man. The Sixers’ starters appeared comfortable on just about every possession against Detroit. Embiid essentially had open jumpers available whenever he wanted them. A little over five minutes in, his three gave the Sixers a 19-8 lead. Harris and Harden combined to make their first 11 field goals. Harden again wasn’t far from reaching a triple-double before halftime.
Any rustiness for Embiid wasn’t a problem vs. a thoroughly inferior opponent. Former Sixer Alec Burks picked off Embiid’s pass when Detroit switched to a zone defense, but Embiid chased Burks down in the open floor and easily swatted away his ill-advised attempt at a transition hoop. By Embiid’s standards, his 22 first-half points didn’t require anything exceptional.
Full-strength rotation back in business
The Sixers used a five-man bench in the first half. Montrezl Harrell retained his backup center spot and Paul Reed was not in the mix after a strong performance Sunday in Detroit. Danuel House Jr. and Furkan Korkmaz remained outside the rotation.
Head coach Doc Rivers played the all-bench lineup of Shake Milton, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang and Harrell late in the first quarter, though that group didn’t stay together for long. Tyrese Maxey soon replaced Thybulle, who made a couple of eye-catching plays in his brief first-half stint. He blocked a Burks jumper and cut smartly off of a Harrell post-up before making a tricky layup. On a negative note, Thybulle fouled jump shooters twice Tuesday night.
The Sixers had a sloppy stretch with Detroit playing small ball out of necessity and committed 11 turnovers in the game’s opening 17 minutes. Rodney McGruder’s three cut the Pistons’ deficit to 33-29 and it seemed Detroit might have a shot at staying competitive for a while.
That idea faded quickly as the Sixers responded with a 15-0 run that included an and-one Embiid runner against Noel. Very improbably, Noel snapped the run by sinking the third three-pointer of NBA career; he’d been 2 for 13 heading into the game. Embiid, who had a wry smile as he jogged back down the floor, then pump faked and drove in for a powerful dunk.
Longer look at Springer
While the Sixers are no stranger to surprising comebacks, the undermanned Pistons simply had no hope. The Sixers’ defense was solid, but much of the Pistons’ scoring struggles in the first half could be attributed to Detroit missing open and close-range looks.
The game wasn’t an intriguing one at all from a competitive standpoint, but Maxey at least gave the home crowd a bit of excitement early in the third quarter when he surged in for consecutive and-one layups. Harden racked up assists rapidly Tuesday, including back-to-back dishes in the third for Embiid layups. He assisted a Melton three to wrap up a possession on which the Sixers moved the ball like the varsity team facing the freshmen squad. In truth, that’s how the game went all night. In addition to notching his second straight triple-double, Harden passed Kyle Lowry for 25th on the NBA’s all-time assists list.
The Sixers subbed Embiid out with 3:50 left in the third quarter and a 41-point lead.
The highlight of the evening's extended garbage time was the longest and best appearance of Jaden Springer's short NBA career. In his eighth regular-season game, the second-year guard scored a career-high 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting. He flashed his athleticism on a put-back dunk, cut to the middle of the paint for a layup, and looked decent overall, albeit in quite a low-pressure situation.
Springer's fourth-quarter minutes obviously won't sway Rivers to throw him into the rotation, but perhaps it'll be a nice confidence-booster for a 20-year-old who's gone back and forth a bunch between the Sixers and Delaware Blue Coats.