3 observations after Sixers grind out road win behind Simmons and Embiid originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Last season, an away game against a less talented opponent following two encouraging wins over an Eastern Conference foe would likely have been a problem for the Sixers. They lost several frustrating games that fit that description or were very close to it.
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While it wasn’t easy, the team didn't replicate that trend and took care of business Saturday night in Detroit, beating the Pistons by a 114-110 score and moving to 12-5.
Detroit was without No. 7 overall pick Killian Hayes (right hip strain) Blake Griffin (left knee injury management) and Derrick Rose (left knee soreness). Vincent Poirier and Mike Scott remained out for the Sixers because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols and right knee swelling, respectively.
The Sixers will stay in Detroit to play the Pistons again Monday night. Here are observations on their win to open the mini-series:
Simmons thrives, makes up for bench’s off night
Like Joel Embiid on Friday night, Ben Simmons had a strong start interrupted by foul trouble. Before being called for his second foul with 4:56 left in the first period, he posted eight points, three rebounds and two assists, driving downhill effectively.
For a second consecutive game, the Sixers’ bench players didn’t fare well during their time on the floor late in the first and early in the second period, making sloppy mistakes that helped the Pistons prosper in transition. Though the Sixers have gotten valuable performances from their bench early in the season, the team’s all-second unit lineups have sometimes looked shaky.
All told, the Sixers’ bench was outscored 55-23 by Detroit's second unit.
Dwight Howard did his best to provide physicality and energy but was called for an offensive foul when he fought for an offensive rebound and Pistons rookie Isaiah Stewart ripped off a portion of his shorts. The veteran big man picked up a technical foul for arguing the perplexing call, as you can see in the video above.
As for Simmons, he resumed his aggressive offensive mindset after that foul trouble-induced stint on the bench. He scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half, adding nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals in a characteristically diverse performance.
With a 10-for-12 performance at the foul line, Simmons has now made 65.9 percent of his free throws this season.
Simmons’ primary defensive assignment was Jerami Grant. While the Process Era Sixer has been having by far his most productive NBA season, he had a poor night against Simmons and the Sixers, scoring 11 points on 3-for-19 shooting. It’s certainly not the first time one of Simmons’ matchups has had a subpar game.
Even if missed open shots are part of what went wrong for Grant, it’s no coincidence that Simmons often makes the opposition’s top offensive threat look much less potent than he typically does. Simmons swallowed Grant up on one especially impressive third-quarter possession, mirroring his moves on the baseline, knocking the ball loose and forcing a jump ball. If he stays healthy, Simmons seemingly has the talent to rack up All-Defensive First Team honors year after year.
Overmatched against Embiid, again
Almost every time Embiid plays, it seems obligatory to note that he has an advantageous matchup, as if to indicate that his prodigious output comes with a significant caveat. When that’s the case so often, though, it says something about how difficult Embiid is to defend. The apparent formula for slowing him down is double teaming at the right times, making him take contested mid-range shots and avoiding fouls. It’s all much easier said than done.
Miles Plumlee, Stewart and former teammate Jahlil Okafor were the players tasked with guarding Embiid, who was listed as questionable leading into the game because of back tightness. None had any convincing answers against the three-time All-Star, though Embiid wasn’t quite as sharp or efficient as during the Sixers’ mini-series sweep over the Celtics, during which he scored 80 points on 34 field-goal attempts.
He still recorded 33 points on 10-for-20 shooting and 14 rebounds, however, and nothing about his play was startlingly brilliant or exceptional by the very high standards he’s set. These sorts of performances look regularly within reach.
Grinding one out
Detroit held a sizable advantage over the Sixers in three-point shooting during the first half, hitting 9 of 15 long-range attempts compared to the Sixers’ 2-for-8 mark. The Pistons had a lot of success running Wayne Ellington (17 points) around screens, and the Sixers were occasionally lax in either not tracking shooters well or flying past them.
The team's defense also wasn't flawless after halftime. However, the facts are that the Sixers overcame an 11-point first-half deficit to win on the road in the second half of a back-to-back. The Sixers did well to plow through those suboptimal circumstances.