The Sixers have not been truly tested in quite some time, although they have had some surprisingly close calls here or there, like when they beat the Spurs in overtime or barely hung on against an undermanned Pelicans squad. The lottery-bound Pistons rolled into town last night with a rather lengthy injury report. And while the game wasn’t entirely a sleeper (Detroit was within 10 points or so for large swaths of the game) the Sixers never really appeared to feel threatened.
After a game that was weirdly close against the Zion Williamsless Pelli’s on Friday, Doc Rivers was asked why he opted to play Mike Scott over Tyrese Maxey in certain lineups. He talked about how he wanted to match up against New Orleans’ size. Well, he didn’t hold the rookie out of Kentucky back at all last night. Not only did Maxey get the start for Ben Simmons (back) he erupted for 22 points, 4 dimes, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. He was 2/3 from deep and 6/7 from the line.
Tyrese Maxey becoming more confident firing spot-up 3s has been such a helpful development for him in recent weeks. pic.twitter.com/jz45hxOAJl— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) May 9, 2021
The high number of free throw attempts for Maxey is exciting. Between his ability to draw fouls around the rim, and the development of his jumper, he’s got the makings of a very valuable player for a title contender on his cost-controlled salary. Other rookies drafted late have generated more attention (like Boston’s Payton Pritchard or New York’s Immanuel Quickley) but those guys get more minutes. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Maxey might be seen as the late pick-steal of the 2020 draft if he’d received more time this year. Rivers said he would not hesitate to use an 11 man rotation in the playoffs, and there was no doubt who he was making room for following Saturday’s tantalizing performance.
Former Sixer Jerami Grant came into the game questionable, although he suited up and dropped 14 points, leading the way for the Pistons.
As usual, the opponent had no answer for Joel Embiid. The MVP candidate finished with a game-high 29 points and 6 rebounds in just 23 minutes, while only attempting 13 shots. The big man has found (during this stretch of less-than-stellar comp) a way to draw fouls and hit a pile of one-legged Dirk Nowitzki-style fadeaways without exerting maximum energy.
As for Dwight Howard, he made rebounding history last night, passing Walt Bellamy to move into 11th place in the all time leading rebounder list. Absolutely incredible:
What if Dwight Howard is the Frank Gore of the NBA and will play for another 27 years— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) May 8, 2021
Philadelphia now holds a commanding 3 game lead on the East’s top seed. It’s not clear who their first-round opponent might be as the bottom half of the playoff bracket is totally up in the air. Teams like the Hawks and Knicks have a legitimate shot at the 4 and 5 seeds respectively, although the Celtics and Heat are in the mix as well.
As of now, the road to the finals in the East goes through South Philly, where the 76ers are 27-7. Here they come.