Without Embiid, Sixers still deal Pistons another loss
Detroit — Even without one of their stars, the Philadelphia 76ers still are a problem.
With Joel Embiid sitting out to get rest, the 76ers leaned on their other two All-Stars, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons, who combined for 56 points.
That was enough to help overcome the Pistons’ 15-point lead in the third quarter and surge ahead for a 117-111 victory on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (13-10) — and things don’t get any easier, with a back-to-back Sunday at home against the Pelicans and Monday at Philadelphia.
Coach Dwane Casey pointed to the Pistons’ 17 turnovers, including 10 in the second half, as the big reason for squandering the lead.
“Key turnovers — that’s the bottom line,” Casey said. “Seventeen turnovers … it’s hard to beat anybody when you do that. Philadelphia is a very good defensive team, but a lot of our turnovers were self-inflicted.”
Blake Griffin had 31 points, 12 rebounds and six assists and Andre Drummond 21 points and 10 rebounds but the Pistons were limited off the bench, with Stanley Johnson as a late scratch because of a sore left knee and Reggie Bullock (sprained left ankle) and Ish Smith (right adductor strain) also on the injured list.
That forced Casey to shuffle the reserve rotation — and they played well, but when the starters returned, they coughed up the lead in the third quarter, behind a surge from Butler (38 points, six rebounds and six assists) and Simmons (18 points, 14 rebounds and six assists).
The Pistons pushed the lead to 15 early in the third quarter, but a turnover led to a 3-pointer by J.J. Redick (18 points) and Griffin, frustrated, went to the bench during a timeout and pounded the seat next to him, sensing the tide was turning.
“I think our disposition during those moments (was bad). Our lack of focus and concentration coming out of timeouts was really bad tonight,” Griffin said. “It’s been bad and that’s not winning basketball. That’s how you get beaten — and our record the last three games has shown that.”
The 76ers (18-9) trailed, 68-56, at halftime and the Pistons had their largest lead after Glenn Robinson III opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer. The 76ers answered with a 22-5 run to move ahead by two.
Butler broke out, as 11 of his 13 points in the period came during the run, along with six points by Simmons. The duo combined for the final 10 points in the big run but the Pistons’ bench had an answer.
Zaza Pachulia made four free throws and Griffin hit two of four free throws in the final two minutes of the period, but the 76ers’ Mike Muscala (18 points) hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds, to trim the Pistons’ lead to 90-89 heading to the fourth.
The Pistons had a 6-0 run — with baskets by Jose Calderon, Pachulia and Luke Kennard — in the early part of the fourth quarter and pushed the lead to 98-92 with 10:50 remaining, but Butler ended it with a three-point play.
The 76ers had another big run, extinguishing a 100-95 Pistons lead with 13 straight points, with four by each Butler and Redick.
The Pistons never recovered and could only close to within six in the final minutes.
1. The Pistons played around their mounting injury issues. In addition to Ish Smith (right adductor strain), who will miss at least two weeks, and Reggie Bullock (sprained left ankle), they got another one pregame. Stanley Johnson (sore left knee) was slated to start for Bullock but was a late scratch and rookie Bruce Brown started in his place. The absences forced Casey into some unlikely bench rotations, but they got a boost early in the fourth quarter to extend their lead.
2. Brown got another tough defensive assignment. After last week dealing with the Warriors' Steph Curry and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, he drew 76ers wing Jimmy Butler on Friday. Some of Brown’s extended playing time is due to the injuries in the backcourt but coach Dwane Casey has full confidence in Brown’s ability to adapt on the defensive end and guard some of the better backcourt players in the league.
3. Kennard found his shooting touch, after taking a couple of games to get back into a rhythm. He finished with five points, on 2-of-4 shooting, but looked more in the flow of the game and ready to take open shots when they were available. He helped spur a bench run and played more minutes. When he gets back in playing shape and his timing is closer to normal, he’ll be an important piece of the second group, especially with the Pistons’ shaky 3-point shooting.
4. Andre Drummond was 7-of-7 from the free-throw line, casting aside a streak of 7-of-28 over the previous six games. He was more aggressive in going to the rim and was able to convert without the bad misses that he had during that poor stretch. Griffin went 17-of-24 on free-throw attempts, tying for the second-highest total of attempts in Pistons franchise history, behind Drummond’s 36 in 2016. Griffin was more assertive in trying to draw fouls on his drives and got a favorable whistle for most of the game.
5. Casey shuffled his rotations, getting Jackson in as the scorer with the second unit and providing some minutes with Smith out. The lineup with Calderon, Kennard, Galloway, Leuer and Pachulia was effective in a small spurt and helped the Pistons pull ahead in the fourth quarter.