DETROIT – This is why the 76ers got Al Horford and re-signed Tobias Harris and Mike Scott.
The Sixers acquired Horford, a five-time All-Star, to bolster their starting lineup at power forward when Embiid played. He is also their insurance policy at center when the oft-injured Embiid misses games.
Horford’s presence was needed here Saturday night, as Embiid (sprained right ankle) sat out the Sixers’ 117-111 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Little Caesars Arena.
In Embiid’s absence, Horford had 23 points, nine rebounds, and five assists playing center. Harris scored 16 of his team-high 29 points in the third quarter on 6-for-7 shooting, making all three of his three-point shots. His performance was a major reason why the Sixers (2-0) battled back from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit.
“I was just taking good looks that my teammates got me,” Harris said of the quarter. “All of the looks were pretty much off defense. So it was just getting a flow with that. Anytime it happens to be like that, it’s a lot easier.”
Off the bench, Scott, who re-signed this summer, finished the game with 17 points, making 5 of 6 three-point attempts.
Scott made a pair of foul shots with 5.4 seconds left to seal the six-point win.
Ben Simmons, despite five turnovers, finished with 13 points, 10 assists, and a career-high seven steals. He made a late steal, his sixth, and fed Horford for an eventual three-point play and a 106-97 lead with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left.
Harris slid from small forward to power forward on this night. His versatility and ability to create were among the reasons why the Sixers re-signed him to five-year, $180 million deal this summer. Scott’s grit and shooting ability are why the Sixers inked him to a two-year, $9.8 million deal to stay in Philly.
Harris and Horford playing different positions enabled rookie Matisse Thybulle to make his first regular-season start.
The Pistons (1-2) were also shorthanded.
Six-time All-Star power forward Blake Griffin (knee, hamstring) and point guard Reggie Jackson (back) missed the game.
But unlike seasons past, the Sixers didn’t miss a beat with Embiid out because they now have Horford.
Horford wasn’t exactly a solid replacement early on.
The 13th-year veteran missed his first three shots -- two wide-open three-pointers and an alley-oop dunk. He went on to shoot 1-for-6 in the first quarter. However, Horford made both of his shot attempts in second quarter, grabbed three rebounds, and compiled three assists in 7:56 of action. Horford added 17 points in the second half, with 15 coming in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like they were good looks. They just weren’t falling,” Horford said of the first quarter. “It was good to see them go in in the fourth.”
Embiid reported discomfort in his ankle following Wednesday’s season-opening victory over the Boston Celtics. The two-time All-Star didn’t practice Friday and was only able to partake in a portion of Saturday morning’s shootaround at Detroit Country Day School. Afterward, he told the team medical staff that he would be unable to play Saturday.
“There is a pacifier for me,” coach Brett Brown said of signing Horford and reserve center Kyle O’Quinn this summer. “And I’m numb to it. We’ve lived this life for a while. I feel bad for him because he really has had the best preseason and has come in the best shape of any year I’ve been with Joel."
Embiid has an injury history.
The 25-year-old was hampered by tendinitis in his left knee last season. He missed 14 of the final 24 regular-season games, plus Game 3 of the Sixers’ opening-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.
The third overall pick of the 2014 draft missed his first two seasons due to two foot surgeries. Then he only played in 31 games during the 2016-17 season due to season-ending knee surgery. He also missed the final eight regular-season games and Game 1 and Game 2 of the opening-round playoff series against the Miami Heat during the following season after fracturing a bone in his face.
Saturday’s victory was a character builder for the Sixers.
They were without their best player in Embiid. Horford battled through a lackluster first quarter. The team came back from a double-digit deficit. Harris exploded in the third quarter, and they got contribution from the bench.
“Everybody stepped up,” Simmons said. "I just love the way this team is headed right now. I think this is a great test, an early test for us right now, especially against a good team, a physical team.