GRADES: Detroit Pistons 119, Philadelphia 76ers 104

Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers drop another game in Joel Embiid’s absence.

The Tuesday night game at Detroit was a classic “trap” game for the Philadelphia 76ers.  Riding a three game winning streak, playing without Joel Embiid against a 3-13 Pistons team, and looking ahead at a Wednesday night matchup against LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, the game began exactly the way you would expect.

The Sixers came out flat and the young, hungry Pistons came out loose and aggressive, jumping  out to leads of 15- 4 and then 26-11. Slowly but surely the energy began to build and the Sixers began to dig in and fight. Strong play on both ends from Tobias Harris and an unexpected jolt off the bench from Tony Bradley helped them cut the lead to eleven after the first stanza.

Unlike the lethargic effort they showed against the Memphis Grizzlies the last time Joel Embiid sat out, this time the Sixers showed engagement and assertiveness on both ends.  The aggressive energy carried into the second quarter as they began to chip away at that Pistons lead.  Matisse Thybulle, giving up 40 pounds and 4 inches to Blake Griffin, defended him like a Pit Bull and the frustration began to wear on Griffin as the play became more physical and both teams clamped down on defense.

After cutting the lead to five behind some inspired defense the Sixers picked up a pair of technical fouls on Dwight Howard and Doc Rivers when the game turned chippy, and it seemed to take some of the air  out of them.  Simmons picked up his third personal foul and spent the rest of the half on the bench. The Pistons took advantage of the lapse in concentration and pushed their lead back out to 17.

It was apparent how much Philadelphia relies on Embiid as they were outrebounded by ten in the first 24 minutes and went to the free throw line 13 fewer times. Philly native Wayne Ellington and former Sixer Jerami Grant led the way for Detroit with 14 points each and they took a 14 point lead into the half.

Unlike last week’s Memphis game when none of the starters wanted to be a leader, Ben Simmons came out strong in the second half, taking (and missing) a corner three before getting a steal and runout, a Harris three point play, and Simmons grabbing a long board and kicking out for a Danny Green three pointer.  He picked up a silly 4th foul biting on a bad fake from Griffin but stayed in the game and stayed assertive. Throughout the third quarter the 76ers battled and made runs, only to watch the Pistons have answers for every one. After cutting the lead to 7 it was back up to 13 at the end of the third. As the game wore on the Sixers began to fall apart, with the Pistons beating them to loose balls and outhustling them throughout the second half.

This was a game that cried out for a veteran like Seth Curry or Danny Green to take control but it never happened.  None of the Sixers perimeter player besides Harris was able to do much of anything tonight. Milton seemed to want to take over but the shot wasn’t falling and he compounded it with a series of silly fouls. In the end, the Sixers simply had no one to turn to and the Pistons, smelling blood in the water, poured it on down the stretch.

For long periods of this game it felt like Tobias Harris was the only Sixer who could score the ball and this team will not be able to survive long if other players do not step up to accept more of a role in Embiid’s absences. Knowing that Joel will miss games here and there for rest or to care for his back, this team must prepare contingency plans.  They need to know who the first, second, and third primary scoring options are without him and have plans in place to put those players in the best position to succeed. This team seems to have no identity without Joel and often appear to be confused about who the offense should run through. For now, the bright side is that Embiid should be back in the lineup for the next game on Wednesday.

A-. <strong>21 mins | 11 pts | 4 reb | 4 ast | 2 stl| 0 blk | 2 TO | 5–9 FG | 0–1 3PT | 1-3 FT | 4 PF | -2 |</strong><p>Foul trouble plagued Simmons all night but it was encouraging to see how aggressively he played on both ends.  The most disappointing thing about his poor start to the season was that he disappeared for long stretches and was too often a passive observer on the court.  The last three games we have seen a different Ben Simmons and if he can bring this kind of energy every night, he will be vital to the success of this team regardless of what kind of numbers he puts up.</p>. PG, PF. Philadelphia 76ers. BEN SIMMONS

PF. Philadelphia 76ers. TOBIAS HARRIS. A-. <strong>30 mins | 25 pts | 7 reb | 2 ast | 0 stl| 1 blk | 4 TO| 10–19 FG | 3–6 3PT | 2-4 FT | 4 PF | -11 |</strong><p>Harris is becoming the player that we hoped he would be when we first got him from the Clippers.  Tonight he was aggressive and tried to look for his shot without forcing the issue.  His defense is much improved this year and he and Simmons were the only two regulars who looked ready to play tonight.  If he can keep up this level of play the “trade Tobias” talk may start to cool off.</p>

D. <strong>22 mins | 7 pts | 2 reb | 2 ast | 1 stl| 0 blk | 1 TO| 2–10 FG | 1–4 3PT | 2-2 FT | 0 PF | -16 |</strong><p>Curry is capable of electrifying bursts of offense, but tonight he was the invisible man.  He and Embiid seem to have a symbiotic relationship, not only playing better together but worse in each other’s absence.  Tonight was a night when the team frantically needed flamethrower Curry and he was nowhere to be found.</p>. SG. Philadelphia 76ers. SETH CURRY

C-. <strong>23 mins | 10 pts | 3 reb | 1 ast | 0 stl| 0 blk | 0 TO| 3–10 FG | 0–3 3PT | 4-4 FT | 5PF | -5 |</strong><p>Will the real Shake Milton please stand up? Young players will have growing pains but the Sixers desperately need him to bring more offense on the nights without Embiid. He will probably be up and down all year, but we need more from him in games like this.  Rivers needs to specifically game plan ways to use him when other scorers are out.  He’s too talented to treat just like everyone else.</p>. PG, SG. Philadelphia 76ers. SHAKE MILTON

A. <strong>23 mins | 12 pts | 9 reb | 0 ast | 0 stl| 1 blk | 0 TO| 5–7 FG | 0–0 3PT | 2-2 FT |2 PF | +8 |</strong><p>This grade of “A” is not because he was so amazing, but because he was a solid surprise contributor in the middle on a night when the team sorely needed it. Without Joel the Sixers badly need Dwight Howard to step up but he has yet to do so. Instead Bradley came in and gave the 76ers exactly the kind of steady production they needed. He was one of very few bright spots in an otherwise dreary game.</p>. C. Philadelphia 76ers. TONY BRADLEY

Wednesday will be the real acid test for this Sixers team. Despite their strong start the critics have constantly reminded everyone that they haven’t played anyone good yet.  Well, the Lakers are the best team in the NBA right now and the Sixers are still unbeaten when they have all of their starters so this will be the perfect opportunity to see where they really stand.

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