The Sixers are back home and back over .500, even if the evening didn't end smoothly.
Joel Embiid had 30 points and 18 rebounds Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center in a 110-102 win over the Pistons that improved the Sixers to 3-2.
The downside is Embiid's services were required late as the Sixers couldn't maintain a once-healthy fourth-quarter lead. An Embiid top-of-the-key three-pointer with 13.9 seconds to go sealed the final result.
Tobias Harris posted 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Tyrese Maxey recorded 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting and six assists.
Embiid (right knee soreness) and Shake Milton (right ankle sprain) played after being listed as questionable throughout the day. It was Milton’s season debut.
Doc Rivers said pregame that Ben Simmons has been working out at the Sixers’ practice facility and was there for the team’s latest shootaround. According to the Sixers' head coach, Simmons “did a lot of shooting and a lot of stuff” Thursday morning with skills development coach Spencer Rivers.
“The back is getting better,” Rivers said of Simmons. “It’s more about the mental. That’s where it’s at.”
The Sixers next play Saturday night at home against the Hawks. Here are observations on their win over the Pistons:
Embiid outclasses young Detroit bigs
The Sixers led 12-5 at the game’s first timeout. Detroit opened 2 for 11 from the floor and 0 for 6 from three-point range.
While the Sixers’ offense wasn’t spotless early on, the team got Embiid plenty of touches against Isaiah Stewart, a scrappy but undersized second-year big man. Stewart didn’t help himself by biting on a couple of Embiid pump fakes. Embiid coaxed the third foul out of Stewart with 4:41 left in the first half as the 20-year-old tripped Embiid up around half court.
Stewart was replaced by Luka Garza, a second-round pick whose calling cards are skill and size, not agility or defense. Predictably, Embiid beat Garza for an offensive rebound soon after the rookie’s entry and slammed home a dunk. He gave a point back, however, picking up a technical foul after an emphatic reaction.
Garza drained two three-pointers but was obviously overmatched on the other end, accumulating two fouls within two minutes. Embiid attempted 8 of the Sixers’ 12 first-half free throws, hitting seven of them. He also made the game’s flashiest pass, throwing a behind-the-back assist to Maxey and capitalizing on the Pistons’ panicked help defense. In short, Embiid took the game over once Garza stepped on the court.
That second-quarter technical could’ve cost Embiid in the third when Josh Jackson hit him in the face and the four-time All-Star vehemently objected to the contact. Fortunately for the Sixers, the mini-skirmish concluded with Jackson being assessed both a personal foul and a technical, while Embiid stayed in the game.
Indeed, it seemed fair enough that Embiid was a bit miffed by Jackson’s foul. Playing through a sore knee, he’d prefer not to deal with a broken nose or an injury along those lines.
Sixers stick with first five — for now
Though the Sixers kept the same starting lineup, Rivers expects he’ll mix things up down the line.
“I do think this may be one of those teams, until Ben comes, that we have to change lineups,” he said pregame.
Rivers said he likes Maxey more with the Sixers’ second-unit players for the time being. He also mentioned he wants to see more of lineups that feature Harris at small forward and Georges Niang at power forward.
Maxey, who’s received near-constant advice and instruction from Rivers, Sixers assistant coaches and his teammates, had two nice first-quarter drives. He was again rather peripheral offensively but played solid basketball, dishing out four assists in the opening period.
Maxey followed his early-season trend of ramping up the aggression in the third quarter, stepping on the gas on several impressive bursts to the hoop. Another positive from his night was a 2-for-2 performance from three-point range after a 1-for-12 stretch entering Thursday.
Milton subbed in late in the first, surrounded by Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Niang and Andre Drummond. Milton handled the ball as expected, enabling Korkmaz to slide to the wing.
The 25-year-old had an uneven initial stretch. He passed up an open three-pointer late in the shot clock, missing a subsequent floater; was beaten off the dribble by Cory Joseph and forced to foul the veteran point guard; and was stripped by Joseph on a drive.
As a group, the Sixers’ bench lacked transition pop, struggled to create good shots in the half court, and didn’t do much to make Detroit uncomfortable. The team committed 10 first-half turnovers, too. Rivers had to call a timeout with 6:55 left in the second quarter and the Pistons holding a 35-30 edge, re-inserting his starters.
The Sixers’ bench broke the game further open early in the fourth on three-balls by Thybulle and Korkmaz, extending their lead to 18 points. That advantage wasn't comfortable, though, as Detroit rattled off a 16-1 run after the Sixers built the advantage to 22.
They've ended both their home games this season in shaky fashion, though this effort at least didn't spoil a win. Still, the stagnant late-game offense and rapidly deteriorating leads are clearly not good.
Milton appeared to gain confidence after halftime, made a couple of long-range jumpers and finished with 13 points and five assists in 16 minutes.
Harris steady as usual
Harris hasn’t been a headliner much this season, but he’s played well in his typical understated way.
He scored Thursday through his usual assortment of pull-up jumpers, post-up baskets and strong moves to the hoop when he had an opening. Nothing sensational besides one fast-break dunk, but efficient work.
Harris has averaged 19.4 points and shot 51.9 percent over the Sixers’ first five games, exactly the kind of production the team has come to expect from him during the regular season.
Defensively, he was the main player responsible for Jerami Grant’s 4-for-14 night from the floor. Villanova product Saddiq Bey also had a rough shooting game until the fourth, but he sunk a few jumpers down the stretch to keep the Pistons close, totaling a team-high 19 points.