DETROIT — The negative is that the 76ers had to deal with another COVID-19 scare hours before Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
The one positive in the tough situation is that they are accustomed to dealing with these types of situations. So that made a tough day manageable.
Reserve guard Isaiah Joe was placed in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols earlier in the day. That prompted the entire team to get tested for the virus before the game at Little Caesars Arena.
The testing disrupted their game-day schedule. The Sixers didn’t watch game film or have a walk-through.
“We are so used to this protocol,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s not that unsettling, honestly. If it was something we’ve never done, it would be a big deal, I guess.
“The only big deal is that we have players that have it [coronavirus] and that’s our concern.”
Joe’s news comes after teammate Tobias Harris tested positive earlier this week. Harris is experiencing fatigue and congestion.
Asked how Joe is feeling, Rivers said, “He’s doing good. It’s his first day, so I don’t know yet. But he’s doing OK.”
The Sixers went on to win,109-98.
They improved to 7-2 and extended their winning streak to five games. As a result, Rivers is also one victory shy of his 1,000th career win. Rivers has compiled a 999-706 record during a combined 23 seasons with the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, and Sixers. He’s the 10th-winningest coach in NBA history.
On this night, the Sixers made 12-of-32 three-pointers to hit double-digit three-pointers in nine straight games to begin the season. Before this year, the Sixers’ record was two straight games, which came at the start of the 2017-18 season.
Seth Curry led the Sixers with 23 points. Joel Embiid added 19 points and nine rebounds. Tyrese Maxey had 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with five assists in 44 minutes, 41 seconds played on his 21st birthday. Shake Milton (16 points) and Georges Niang (14) were the other double-digit scorers. Paul Reed finished with a season-high nine rebounds.
Former Sixer Jerami Grant had a game-high 27 points. Cade Cunningham, the first-overall pick, had 18 points on 4-for-17 shooting to go with 11 assists.
The Sixers built a 103-89 lead after Matisse Thybulle’s transition dunk with 5:46 remaining. That hyped up Embiid, who embraced and high-fived teammates as he headed to the bench for a timeout.
“This team, they’re close,” Rivers said, “They’re void of distractions, so far, and they just play. Play hard.”
Health and safety protocols
A player can typically return after a 10-day quarantine or following two negative tests 24 hours apart.
Joe’s situation left the Sixers with nine available players against the Pistons. Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Furkan Korkmaz (right wrist soreness), Ben Simmons (mentally not ready to play), and Jaden Springer (G League assignment) joined Joe and Harris as members of the team’s 15-man roster unavailable for the game.
Embiid (right knee recovery) was cleared to play right before game time. As a result, the Sixers had a starting lineup of Milton, Thybulle, Embiid, Curry, and Maxey against the Pistons.
At one point, the Sixers had a lineup featuring reserve power forward Niang and reserve centers Andre Drummond and Reed. In that lineup, Reed was the small forward.
“I didn’t know who the four, three, two were,” Rivers said. “It was just great. ... That unit was phenomenal, that second unit. It really was.”
Curry is doing a solid job of leading the Sixers.
The shooting guard led the team in scoring in each of their three undermanned games. On this night, he made 9-of-18 shots, including 4-of-8 three-pointers. Sixteen of his points came in the first quarter when he had 3-of-4 threes.
“It was just flow of the game,” Curry said his last three performances. “It’s the style of play that we are playing. We started running a little bit more pick-and-roll. The ball is my hands a little bit more to make plays, and that’s just the product of the style of play that we are playing.
“It’s not really anything that I’m doing different.”
Embiid had a rough night, making just 6-of-15 shots. In the first half, the four-time All-Star missed 5-of-7 attempts while scoring nine points.
But Rivers had nothing but praise for the franchise player. He praised Embiid for not getting frustrated and finding the open man while being trapped. Nor did Rivers have a problem with Embiid’s shooting.
“I couldn’t care less,” Rivers said. “I didn’t say one thing. That’s fine. Joel is a great player. I’m never going to worry about him or Seth or any of those players missing shots.”
Thursday marked Maxey’s 21st birthday, and Rivers rewarded him with a big chunk of minutes. He was happy to get the win, especially under the circumstances.
“Coach Doc’s speech the last few day was, ‘These are the games you win when key guys are out, you get late scratches. You never know who’s in and who’s out until the tip-off,’” Maxey said. ”You go out and be resilient and you win those games.”
Coping with COVID
This isn’t the first time the Sixers had to deal with health and safety protocols on the road.
Curry, who was sidelined at the time, was informed during a Jan. 7 loss in Brooklyn that he tested positive for COVID-19. That forced the team to quarantine and contact trace in a New York hotel that night and the following day. Due to protocols, contact tracing, and injuries, the Sixers had only seven available players for their afternoon home loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9.
Then the coronavirus forced the postponement of their Jan. 17 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Sixers did not have the eight required available players because of their ongoing contact tracing for COVID-19.
The Sixers didn’t have any positive COVID-19 tests to report. However, the team remained in Oklahoma City that night as part of contact tracing/quarantining and to await test results. The contact tracing stemmed from their Jan. 16 game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas, who played against the Sixers, entered the league’s health and safety protocols on Jan. 17.
“Life happens,” Rivers said. “I tell my guys that all the time. You don’t get everything you want all the time. Things don’t always go exactly the way they’re planned.
“But we talk about it a lot. Life still goes on.”
As a result, the Sixers didn’t use last season’s and this week’s COVID-related inconveniences as excuses.
They do, however, feel for their teammates placed in the protocols.
“These last two years have not been normal,” Rivers said. “But it’s not been normal for everyone, not just basketball players.”