Throughout the NBA, there are plenty of games like the 76ers experienced on Saturday night. The second game of a back to back for a team that was starting to feel the aches and pains associated with this grueling NBA season that allows few off-days.
Yet despite playing against a Detroit Pistons team that is ranked at the bottom of The Inquirer’s NBA power rankings, the Sixers were in the fight of their lives.
The Sixers finally prevailed, 114-110 at Little Caesars Arena in a game that maybe they would have lost a year ago, when they were 10-24 in true road games.
While the Pistons were also playing the second game of a back to back, at least both of those games were at home. The Sixers traveled from Philadelphia after Friday’s 122-110 win over the Boston Celtics.
Coach Doc Rivers said about an hour and a half before tipoff in his pre-game interview, that he wasn’t sure if Joel Embiid (back tightness) would play and he wasn’t absolutely certain about Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris either, who he said were banged up, but weren’t listed on the injury report.
The three obviously played and combined for 70 points.
“Tobias and Ben said there were no issues, they told me early on (they would play),” Rivers said after the game. “Joel was pretty much, he kept saying he was going to play, but he kept stretching and doing all the other stuff so we didn’t know until really right before our meeting with Joel.”
Embiid played, to the tune of 33 points and 14 rebounds.
The Sixers likely went in hoping to blow the outmanned Pistons out early, especially since Detroit was without its second and third leading scorers Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, who were injured.
Instead Simmons and Harris had to play more than 34 minutes and Embiid had to play more than 35. This came after Harris played 41 minutes and 24 seconds on Friday, Simmons played 35:45 and Embiid, 30:13.
The Sixers were outscored 22-2 in the first half by the Pistons bench, Detroit played much harder than the Sixersin the first half but only led 63-61 at intermission.
“They were just playing harder early on honestly,” Rivers said. “I always thought that the energy gets the calls, and you can see that. When we upped our energy things went our way, so that is just the way things works.”
Rivers summed it up best.
“We just needed to survive the game and I thought our guys did that,” Rivers said.
One thing that the Sixers have to be gratified from this weekend was seeing Ben Simmons turn aggressive on the offensive end.
He had 11 points in the fourth quarter against Boston and followed that up with 16 of his 20 points in the first half against Detroit. Entering the game shooting 62.9% from the foul line, he also hit 10 of 12 free throws against the Pistons.
“Not every night somebody is going to have a great offensive game or do what they usually do at a high level all the time,” Simmons said. “But Coach makes us know that if you’re able to give us something else that can help us win, to go out and do that. Whether it’s offense or defense, everyone needs to contribute somehow.”
That is how they won this game, one they had to dig a lot deeper than they expected. The next step for the Sixers (12-5) is not allowing a team like Detroit (3-13) to be in the game at all, especially late in the fourth quarter.
Both teams have Sunday off before they meet again Monday in Detroit. The Sixers can only hope to play hard from the beginning so as not to be so tested at the end.