AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Three minutes, 46 seconds.

Those were the numbers on the Palace of Auburn Hills scoreboard last night. The time remaining, in gold bulbs on the game clock, time enough for the 76ers, finally, a quarter through this season, to get that statement victory.

They did, beating the Detroit Pistons, 96-91.

They did it with their leading scorer and newly acquired franchise player, Elton Brand, in Philadelphia with a strained right hamstring. They did it with Allen Iverson, the Sixers' former scoring leader and franchise player for nearly a decade, wearing the white, blue and red of the Pistons.

With 3:46 on the clock, the score was 81-80 in favor of the Pistons.

So how did the Sixers do it?

With reserve forward Donyell Marshall, who played his first minutes since Nov. 15 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and reserve guard Lou Williams, who through 19 games has struggled to find his place.

"Lou Williams was big. Donyell Marshall was big," coach Maurice Cheeks said. "Everyone who went into the game made a contribution."

Marshall scored eight points - all in the fourth quarter. It was his three-pointer with 41.9 seconds remaining that put the Sixers ahead for good, 91-89. Williams finished with 16, including crucial free throws down the stretch.

"As the game went on, I didn't think I would get in," Marshall said. "Then Coach called me, and he said, 'You all right?' and everyone was laughing. I said, 'Yeah.' "

"I wasn't necessarily surprised," Cheeks said of Marshall's performance. "He is a diligent worker."

Rookie Marreese Speights, who scored eight points, started in place of Brand, who remained in Philadelphia after spraining the hamstring in Wednesday night's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Brand is listed as day-to-day. It is unclear whether he will play tonight against the New Jersey Nets at the Wachovia Center.

Last night had little to do with Iverson. He just happened to be the starting point guard for the opposition. He scored 17 points, and former Coatesville star Richard Hamilton led the Pistons with 19.

When it came to what transpired on the hardwood court, it was the same three facets of the game with which the Sixers have struggled all season: field-goal percentage, free-throw shooting, and turnovers.

At halftime, they were shooting 40.6 percent, had 10 turnovers, and trailed by 10 points.

In the second half, they had one turnover.

With a lineup of small forward Thaddeus Young along with four reserves - Williams, Willie Green, Reggie Evans and Marshall - the Sixers cut the lead to six midway through the fourth quarter.

That lineup chipped away at what was a 15-point Pistons lead with 2:25 left in the third quarter.

The Sixers finished with a rotation of Williams, Miller (19 points), Andre Iguodala (14), Marshall, reserve center Theo Ratliff, and Green.

When it was over, Marshall was the last Sixer to walk into the locker room. He was met with applause and a high-five from Cheeks before the door closed behind him.

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Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.