Embiid, Sixers send shorthanded Pistons to fifth straight loss
Philadelphia — In the past two years, almost every matchup between the Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers features Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid as the centers of attention. Pistons coach Dwane Casey downplayed the individual marquee matchup, calling it the Pistons versus the Sixers.
It was exactly that, as the Pistons were without their best player, as the team decided to rest Blake Griffin on the second game of a back-to-back. With injuries to Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Ish Smith, the Pistons were shorthanded — which mean all hands on deck from their reserves.
The Pistons stayed close, keeping the margin within single digits for much of the second half, but they couldn’t get the lead, making the Sixers work for a 116-102 victory on Monday night before a sellout crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
The loss is the fifth straight for the Pistons (13-12), who dropped the season series, 3-1, including Friday’s loss at Little Caesars Arena, in which the Sixers overcame a 15-point deficit in the second half.
With Griffin out, Luke Kennard took the role of scorer, with a career-high 28 points, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.
“I’ve been struggling since I got back and Coach and my teammates keep telling me to stay confident and aggressive,” Kennard said. “We had some guys out so I took the opportunity to play hard and get a rhythm back.”
Andre Drummond added 21 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, in his best game of the season against Embiid, who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds for the Sixers (19-9).
“(Drummond) didn’t get caught up in all the hoopla and played his game. That’s part of his growth process and he’s still a young man and it’s going to help him down the road,” Casey said. “He was composed in rebounding and rolling to the basket.”
The Sixers led by nine at halftime and pushed it to 12 before the Pistons rallied and pulled within three, after an 8-0 run, with 3-pointers by Kennard and Henry Ellenson and a basket by Zaza Pachulia, to make it 76-73 at the 2:44 mark.
The Sixers countered with a 6-0 spurt, with four free throws from Embiid and a dunk by Furkan Korkmaz (18 points and five rebounds) to boost it back to nine. Heading into the fourth quarter, the margin was 87-75, after an Embiid three-point play.
The Pistons started the fourth with an 8-2 run and got within 89-84 with 7:58 remaining but the Sixers responded again, with a dunk by Embiid, a reverse by Ben Simmons (18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) and a free throw from Landry Shamut (10 points).
The Sixers put it away with a 9-0 run in the final minutes, capped by a 3-pointer from J.J. Redick (13 points).
With the season series over, Drummond said he learned from the four matchups with Embiid but is more concerned about the season overall and getting out of the losing skid.
“It’s over with. Everybody can get off our backs about the whole Philly and Detroit thing,” Drummond said. “We have to focus on the rest of the season. It’s a tough loss and a lot of guys are hurt right now and we have to get guys back healthy and get ready for this Charlotte game.”
1. The new starting lineup played with some moxie, as Kennard came out aggressive and hit his first 3-point attempt. There was more motion with the first group, with the offense not centered around Griffin’s isolation game. It’s not sustainable, but it was good to see that the reserves carried some of those habits from the second group to the starting group when they moved. Jon Leuer (eight points, four rebounds) was active as well.
“Guys did a good job of coming in and playing hard. We gave it the best shot we had and made mistakes down the stretch that got them going again,” Drummond said. “We played a really tough game tonight.”
2. Drummond had his best game of the season in the matchup against Embiid. He played under control, within his game and didn’t take bad shots. It was a bit different from some of the other games — almost as if Casey tried to drive that point home with him. Casey said nothing needed to be said, but it was a different Drummond, who was active and in control on the defensive end as well.
“I hope I figured it out after four games — playing against a guy four times so quick too,” he said. “It was quick turnarounds playing against him. It was a fun matchup and tough we couldn’t get the wins. I’ll be playing against the guy for the next decade, so we’ll get our chances.”
3. Injuries abounded, with Glenn Robinson III and Henry Ellenson going down with sprained left ankles, worsening the Pistons’ injury problems. Ellenson returned to the game but Robinson did not. Robinson’s X-rays were negative but he will have an MRI on Tuesday to get a sense the extent of the sprain. Jose Calderon (11 points) also twisted his ankle but stayed in the game. They might have to bring up Zach Lofton from the Grand Rapids Drive, for depth, if nothing else.
4. It’s getting no easier on the road, with Charlotte coming. They’ve given the Pistons defensive fits in the past few meetings and if the Pistons remain shorthanded, it could be another rough road ahead. They haven’t played well on the road this season, but playing shorthanded won’t help the situation, either.
5. Calderon is playing better as he gets into a rhythm. Casey said the bench will be called on to add some needed minutes but it’s one of the big developments within the rash of injuries and the losing streak, that they can count on some of the other reserves, when they knock the rust off.