Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers at Pistons: Guard Trio Guides Sixers to Fifth Win in a Row

Undermanned again, the Sixers were led by a trio of guards Thursday night in a 109-98 win over the Pistons.

3 observations after guard trio guides Sixers to 5th win in a row originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It doesn’t matter who’s out there, apparently. The Sixers just keep winning.

They built their streak to five straight Thursday night with a 109-98 victory over the Pistons in Detroit, improving to 7-2.

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Seth Curry scored 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Tyrese Maxey posted 20 points, Shake Milton 16. 

Joel Embiid totaled 19 points (6-for-15 shooting), nine rebounds and three assists.

Jerami Grant’s 27 points led Detroit, while No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham had 18 points and 10 rebounds. 

The Sixers were missing a lengthy list of players, including Tobias Harris and Isaiah Joe (health and safety protocols), Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Furkan Korkmaz (right wrist soreness). 

The team will face the Bulls again on Saturday, this time in Chicago. Here are observations on the Sixers' win over the Pistons:

Quirky lineups 

The Sixers conceded size at every position besides center to begin the game, starting a lineup of Maxey, Curry, Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Embiid. 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers then went about as big as he could without pairing Embiid and Andre Drummond. He used a lineup featuring Paul Reed and Drummond in the frontcourt and Georges Niang at small forward. 

Much of Thursday’s experimentation was out of necessity — there’s not many options for a team with nine available players, one of whom was second-round rookie center Charles Bassey — but the early-season tinkering isn’t a bad thing. The Sixers have a long time before the postseason to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and to build confident combinations.

Reed (four points, nine rebounds) and Drummond (eight points, 10 boards) were a scrappy duo, providing energy and glass clearing on the second night of the 2021-22 Sixers’ first back-to-back. Perhaps that’s an avenue toward giving Reed more regular minutes when the Sixers are healthier. 

Still, the Sixers’ circumstances inevitably made defense difficult. They forced just two turnovers in the first half and allowed Grant to post 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting before halftime. The team was far better defensively in the second half, though, and Grant didn't come close to sustaining that pace.

Scoring punch from guard trio 

Not for the first time this season, Curry was scorching in the opening period. He recorded 15 first-quarter points on 6-for-8 shooting. 

In general, Curry’s persistence has impressed early this season. Whether it’s relocating after a defender denies his initial move or pump faking and then stepping into mid-range jumpers, Curry has been stellar about simply plugging away. 

Milton had a strong first half overall, playing sturdy defense on 6-foot-8 Saddiq Bey — the highlight was a play where he stonewalled a Bey post-up and forced a jump ball — and scoring at all three levels. Bey finished with seven points and five rebounds, and Milton had a lot to night with his quiet evening. 

On Thursday night, it was especially valuable that Milton’s got above-average size for a guard and a 7-foot wingspan. The pessimistic slant on his game is that he’s neither a true point guard nor an explosive driver, but Milton is able to defend a few positions effectively and has a rather well-rounded offensive package when his three-point shot is falling.

A background figure at times Thursday night, Maxey surged into the spotlight in the third period. It’s natural that Maxey’s spent stretches hanging out off the ball when the Sixers run their offense through Curry, but he’s been good in third quarters at taking charge and pressuring defenses with his drives. 

A 2-for-4 game from three-point range was also a plus, raising Maxey’s season percentage to 34.8 percent. 

Not all about Embiid

Embiid faced hard double teams, which often forced him to relinquish the ball. He committed one poor turnover dribbling the ball into the path of Killian Hayes, who was helping at the “nail.”

Compared to Wednesday’s win over the Bulls, Embiid was significantly less active in the first half. The common thread was his ineffectiveness as a scorer. He was scoreless in the first quarter, attempting no shots of any kind, and didn’t get on the board until 5:43 remained in the second period. 

Embiid was frustrated by the lack of a foul call on at least three occasions before halftime. Whether or not he had credible arguments, those plays were emblematic of his first half. 

In truth, Thursday wasn't about Embiid. He didn't see a heavier load than usual — 30 minutes — and had the luxury of enjoying his teammates' success. (On his 21st birthday, Maxey got 45 minutes. Indeed, he's still very young.)

Practically every one of the Sixers' victories this season has fit the cliched "team win" label, and this game wasn't an exception. Five Sixers scored in double figures and each of the eight rotation players made positive contributions.

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