PHILADELPHIA - Here are three thoughts from the Philadelphia 76ers' 109-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday afternoon.
1. Joel Embiid’s first half for the ages
When the Sixers visited Detroit last week, Joel Embiid was adamant that he had gotten the best of Andre Drummond.
"I think I own a lot of real estate in his head," Embiid said following the Sixers' loss to the Pistons on October 24th. In defeat, Embiid knew that talking trash about his opponent was outside the norms of NBA decorum, but he couldn’t help himself.
Embiid’s swagger set the tone for the Sixers-Pistons rematch today in Philadelphia. It also fueled the best two quarters of Embiid’s career. The Cameroonian-born All-Star didn’t just occupy space in Drummond’s mental psyche on Saturday; he curb-stomped all over the Pistons' big man rotation.
Embiid’s first half stat line was something to behold: 32 points and eight rebounds on 8/9 shooting from the field, and an incredulous 15-17 free throws. His 32 points was a Wells Fargo Centre record for most points scored in a single half of basketball. He drew nine fouls on the ever-rotating line-up of bodies Detroit coach Dwayne Casey tried throwing his way. Try as they might, the Pistons had no answer.
“It’s a fun matchup,” Embiid said post-game. “I feel like I dominate every game, especially against them.
“More importantly, we got the win. Last time, we didn’t. We came out today and we punched them in the mouth, we had a big lead.”
Drummond was the first man to try slowing Embiid down, and quickly turned into his first basketball victim. It took Embiid all of 160 seconds to draw two early fouls on Drummond in the first quarter.
The Pistons starting center headed to the bench with his third whistle, just 102 seconds into the second quarter. Drummond’s half was over in four minutes of playing time, while Embiid laughed up and down the court. Zaza Pachulia and Jon Leuer each got their chance in reserve, and didn’t fare any better.
Embiid was asked to explain his performance against Drummond and Pachulia post-game. In trademark fashion, he articulated the day’s affairs with a probe towards those who tried to slow him.
"At the end of the day, I kicked both of their asses."
Embiid’s impact waned in the second half, and only added seven points more. It hardly mattered, as he finished with 39 points and 17 rebounds. Saturday was the seventh time in 10 games this season Embiid has recorded at least 30 points and 10 assists. He joins Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Walt Bellamy as the only players in NBA history with seven 30-point, 10-rebound games within their team's first 10 games of a season, per Elias Sports.
“When you look at his first half stats, to me he was having a good game,” Brett Brown said post-game. “Then I look at his numbers at halftime and you're like ‘wow.’
“To come in at the end of the game and have that 39 and 17, that is a dominant – 23 free throws – I think that’s my favourite stat out of all that. That is a mentality.”
2. Third quarter woes
For the second consecutive game, the Sixers undid an impressive opening 24 minutes of basketball with a lackadaisical start to the second half. Detroit came out of intermission on an 11-0 run that cut their deficit in half. The Pistons outscored Philadelphia 25-16 in the third quarter.
Two night earlier, the Los Angeles Clippers opened the third quarter on 25-8 burst that reversed a 15-point Philadelphia lead.
The Sixers were able to find enough late game execution to secure victory on both occasions, but this is something Brett Brown and the coaching staff must address.
“I think it’s a disposition,” Brown said of the Sixers third-quarter troubles. “It’s true that this is a trend at times in the NBA.”
The Sixers offence was the culprit for much of their woes today. After a blistering first half that produced 69 points, Philadelphia could only generate 40 points in the second half. Their shooting plummeted to 27% from the field and turnover issues returned with 10 giveaways.
“When they go on a 13-0 run, I think that’s a disposition,” Brown added. “We need to get better. We will.
“That team that was on the floor was the best team analytically in the NBA last season. I’m not going to reach too far but it’s something that we need to fix.”
The “team” Brown references, is the five-man unit featuring Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and J.J. Redick.
With these five on the floor during the 2017/18 NBA season, Philadelphia outscored opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Results this season have been less favourable - entering today’s game, the same line-up had a net rating of minus 1.2.
3. Ben Simmons’ quiet day
Simmons finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes of action. With Embiid leading the way, Simmons was relegated to the role of game manager on this day. Despite a promising start passing the basketball, the Australian’s impact on the game was minimal.
Simmons often found himself defending Blake Griffin on cross-matches as the Sixers switched assignments, and this proved to be a challenge for the reigning Rookie of the Year.
Griffin is one of the rare offensive players who can match Simmons’ size and strength. On four separate occasions out of the post, Griffin lowered his shoulder against Simmons and was able to get to the basket with little hindrance. Griffin also drew Simmons’ fourth foul early in the third quarter, and was a key reason for the 208cm point guard's quiet second half.
In other Australian-related news from Philadelphia, Jonah Bolden was sent back to the Sixers' G League franchise, the Delaware Blue Coats. Bolden made an impressive G League debut in Delaware’s 126-125 loss to the Raptors 905 today.
Bolden finished with 28 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocked shots in 38 minutes.