So much for an easy victory for the 76ers.
The Detroit Pistons came into the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night as the NBA’s lone winless team. Detroit was the type of opponent that could easily help the Sixers erase memories of being manhandled by the New York Knicks on Tuesday.
The Sixers did end up beating the lowly Pistons, 110-102. But this performance showed the Sixers (3-2) are not quite ready to be considered an Eastern Conference title contender.
They had a commanding 22-point lead with 6 minutes, 34 seconds remaining. The Pistons never stopped battling and pulled to within five points on a three-pointer by former Villanova standout Saddiq Bey with 1:06 left.
Then Joel Embiid answered with a three-pointer with 13.9 seconds remaining to give the Sixers their eight -point victory.
“We need to get way better,” Embiid said. “No disrespect to Detroit, but they haven’t won a game. So we can’t be happy about our performance tonight. There’s nothing to be happy about.”
Embiid recalled how the Knicks played with a different energy level, were tougher, and got whatever they wanted against the Sixers.
“We need to be way better defensively than we have been,” he said. “We’ve got to guard our own men. Right now, we haven’t been able to do that. So it creates a lot of rotation, and teams are making a lot of threes.”
The Pistons made seven of their 13 three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Embiid had a nice bounce-back game, finishing with season highs of 30 points and 18 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season. The Sixers center had 19 points and 12 rebounds before intermission.
Second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey finished with 16 points and a season-high six assists in what was his best game of the season. Meanwhile, reserve point guard Shake Milton had 13 points in his season debut.
Bey had 19 points to pace the Pistons, who dropped to 0-4. Fourteen of his points came in the fourth quarter.
Careless with the ball
The Sixers’ 20 turnovers contributed to the game being closer than expected. Four of those giveaways came in the fourth quarter.
“We made turnovers that just were ... frustrating, because this was simple,” coach Doc Rivers said. “You give them credit for 12 of them maybe. But the other eight were on us. Those are the things we have to take care of.”
Embiid, Maxey, and Andre Drummond had four turnovers apiece.
Tobias Harris, Georges Niang, and Furkan Korkmaz each turned the ball over twice. Seth Curry and Milton both had one.
Maxey’s best game
Known as a slasher, Maxey did a solid job being a playmaker and distributor despite the turnovers. He made a couple of mistakes. But the 20-year-old played freely and for the most part did a solid job of getting the ball to teammates in their desired spots.
“First and foremost, too many turnovers,” Maxey said. “I turned the ball over too much, especially you can’t turn the ball over in the fourth quarter. I think that ignited their little run. So I’ve got to fix that.
“But overall, I tried to get in the paint and create for others and prepare for myself as well.”
One of his highlights was a behind-the-back pass to Tobias Harris in transition for a layup. Maxey also buried a wide-open corner three-pointer after receiving a no-look backward pass from Embiid in the second quarter. He added another three-pointer over Kelly Olynyk in the third quarter.
Maxey shot 6-for-8 from the field, including going 2-for-2 on three-pointers. Not bad for someone who shot 20% on three-pointers in the first four games. Maxey looked for his shot more this game instead of deferring to Embiid and Harris.
“Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John John Calipari] taught me one thing: You get 24 hours to grieve,” said Maxey, a former Kentucky standout. “In the NBA, I give myself 12 hours to grieve, because you never know if you have a back-to-back or not.”
Sixers assistant Tyler Lashbrook used a Ted Lasso line on Maxey Wednesday, one day after scoring a season-low seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and experiencing defensive shortcomings against the Knicks.
“He said, ‘You need to have a memory of a goldfish,’” Maxey said. “A goldfish has a short memory.”
Like most standout players, Embiid seldom has consecutive poor performances.
So the four-time All-Star was expected to dominate the Pistons’ post players after finishing with a season-low 14 points on 2-for-7 shooting against the Knicks.
He had more field goals (three) in the first quarter of Thursday’s game than during the entire game versus the Knicks. He finished that quarter with nine points and six rebounds. Embiid then added 10 more points in the second quarter while getting the Detroit centers in foul trouble.
After adding three points in the third quarter, the big fella scored eight in the fourth.
Return of Shake
This marked Milton’s first game since spraining his right ankle during a preseason practice. In addition to the first four regular-season games, the injury sidelined him for the final two preseason tilts.
The fourth-year veteran entered Thursday’s game with 2:26 left in the first quarter to a loud applause from the home crowd.
“Sitting out is kind of hard,” Milton said. “Sitting there and watching the team, of course you are cheering them on. But you want to be out there helping them win. So it felt good to be out there tonight.”
He missed his first shot, a 15-footer. Milton then scored on his second shot, a layup, with 40 seconds remaining in the quarter. He went on to tally four points, one assist, and one steal in seven first-half minutes.
Milton ended up making 5 of 10 shots, including 2 of 3 three-pointers, to go with five assists and a block.
His rust showed when he made a couple of mistakes on defense, an area he worked hard on this summer.
“But I think the more I get in, the more minutes I get,” he said, “I’ll get back acclimated.”