There was very very little energy in Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for much of the game. If this had been a football game, it would have been one of those games where one team is controlling the clock, running the ball up the middle for epic, game-bleeding drives, but settling for field goals....then gets beat by a couple 50 yard bombs down the stretch.
The first team in that scenario was the Pistons. They controlled the tempo, and at one point held a 15 point lead thanks to the bludgeoning style of Blake Griffin. Griffin drew an absurd number of fouls, and shot 24 of the team’s 37 free throws. You read those numbers correctly. It was pretty boring for long periods of time. Blake hurt the Sixers last time they met also, in a game without Ben Simmons (and of course, Jimmy Butler).
The Sixers were without the services of their young MVP candidate tonight. Joel Embiid, who has struggled as of late, (something many assume was due to fatigue, although he pointed to his adjusting to Jimmy Butler’s presence) was made to rest. After Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors, Embiid was 4th overall in minutes played in the entire NBA.
Jimmy Butler lead the Sixers with a game high 38 points. He was his usual relentless self and was the team’s closer, improving as the game went on and increasing his intensity.
The way it played out was almost counter-intuitive. The Pistons pounded the air out of the ball, going to post up after post up or running 4-5 pick and rolls between Griffin and Andre Drummond. With 56 points in the paint and another 30 at the line from attacking the paint it was an extreme strategy. And they were able to keep Amir Johnson and Mike Muscala in foul trouble. But just when it felt like they may have successfully carved a hole in the middle of of the Sixers lineup something changed.
The Sixers’ defense actually intensified and they went on a streak of blocks.
You know that old saying, whoever gets to 100 first wins? Not tonight. After the Pistons took a 100-95 point lead, the game got really chippy and players started jawing. Blake Griffin picked up a technical foul when he hit Butler in the mouth with an elbow. And the tempers flaring ignited the Sixers defense to go from “we can’t stop fouling” to “no chance you’re scoring in our house.”
Philly rattled off 6 blocks in about 3 minutes of play and finished with 12 in total. The announcers couldn’t believe it. First Wilson Chandler, then Simmons, then Muscala, then Simmons again! Block party in downtown Detroit!
The combination of Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler stepped it up on both ends of the floor. The duo combined for 56 points, 20 rebounds, 12 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks. Simmons finished with a triple double with 18 points 14 assists and 10 boards. When two big time athletic wings get out into the open floor it’s some of the most fun basketball to watch. They can both defend, both handle, and both finish.
Mike Muscala played some of his best ball as a Sixer with critical help rotations for blocks. The actual Bell Ringer was Wilson Chandler who was unspectacular but well rounded. He was a game high +23 , with 10 points, two triples, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 8 boards two assists and zero turnovers. That’s winning hoops by the veteran.
T.J. McConnell provided a spark during the first half, but then was used sparingly down the stretch. They needed his help though because they were off from 3, just 28 percent, but did manage to hit 20/21 free throws.
It was an exciting rally at the end of a game that felt for much of it like they weren’t going to win.
The benefit to resting Embiid this evening was that now they’re off through the weekend. On Monday, they’re back at the crib where they will host the Pistons in what will be the two team’s 4th meeting already. The Sixers now control the series 2-1. But Embiid and the real estate he occupies in Drummond’s head will be back next week.
The team is currently in 3rd place in the east.