Joel Embiid is a large presence for the Sixers, literally and metaphorically.
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Embiid sat on Friday night for his first game of the season, with head coach Brett Brown giving the big man some needed rest, and the Sixers felt his absence.
Yet the Sixers rallied from a 15-point deficit in Detroit to top the Pistons, 117-111, led by Jimmy Butler's 38 points, six rebounds and six assists.
With the win, the Sixers are 18-9 on the season.
• While Butler had played together with Ben Simmons for 30.7 of his 33.3 minutes per game, head coach Brett Brown staggered his two stars' minutes much more without Embiid.
There was a big offensive burden on Butler, who matched his season-high of 27 field goal attempts from Wednesday night in Toronto.
Butler had no problem assuming that responsibility. He regularly created his own shots when the offense stagnated and, as is his trademark, nailed a couple key shots in the fourth period.
Simmons had a typically efficient night, with 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting, 13 rebounds and six assists.
• Amir Johnson got his first start of the season in place of Embiid. Johnson showed some of the scrappy credentials that won him the NBA's Hustle Award last year, creating deflections and diving on the floor for loose balls.
However, Johnson has a small fraction of Embiid's talent.
He didn't have much success defensively against Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, and he offered very little offensively besides dribble handoffs, screens and one of his distinct, slow motion three-pointers, which he missed.
Johnson fouled out in 16 minutes.
• Detroit built a sizable lead in the second quarter, scoring 41 points in the period. In the big picture, the fact that the Sixers just don't have the personnel to fit their switch-heavy defense remains a concern. At one point, Landry Shamet got switched onto Griffin and scored on, then somehow ended up on Drummond the very next possession.
Though some of the defensive issues Friday night can be attributed to Embiid's absence, it's too easy for opponents to take advantage of the Sixers' lack of competent, switchable defenders.
• While there are fundamental issues with the defense, you can't question the effort. The Sixers rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third period, spurred by sharp defensive rotations, the occasional smart double team on Griffin, and a few missed open looks by Detroit.
• The Sixers received valuable contributions from Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, who combined for 28 points on 11 for 18 shooting.
Muscala was especially vital, with three important blocks in the fourth and a heat check three-pointer to give the Sixers a 108-100 lead.
Chandler was a game-high plus-23.
• Griffin, who had 31 points and 12 rebounds, had an Embiid-like night in terms of his ability to get to the foul line, taking 24 free throws.
He attempted more foul shots than the entire Sixers team - the Sixers were 20 for 21 from the foul line without Embiid, the NBA leader in free throw attempts.
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