DETROIT — This was a first for Joel Embiid.
The 76er had never faced the Detroit Pistons and their massive center, Andre Drummond, in a regular-season game until Monday night.
Let’s just say he made a lasting first impression.
Embiid finished with 30 points and nine rebounds as the Sixers left the land of the winless with a 97-86 decision at Little Caesars Arena. He made 11 of 15 shots and finished with two steals in 28 minutes, 11 seconds. If there was a downside, it was his seven turnovers.
Ben Simmons recorded his first career triple-double in the win with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Meanwhile, Sixers forward Robert Covington finished with 13 points.
Reggie Jackson paced Detroit with 16 points, while Drummond had 14 points, 14 rebounds and four steals.
The Sixers ended their winless streak to start the season at three games. It was also just their second victory over Detroit (2-2) in the teams’ last eight meetings.
Embiid, who shed his hair braids, came into the game wanting to do better than his previous matchups of the season.
Looking to get an edge, he watched game film of Drummond before the game.
“Defensively, he doesn’t play any defense,” Embiid said of what he saw. “When we started the game, he was being aggressive and he was talking, too. … So what I was like [in my mind] ‘You want to do that? I’m going to kick your [butt] then. So that’s what I did.”
Embiid dominated the game from the start. He scored a layup 32 seconds into the contest. He added another layup following Covington’s three-pointer to give the Sixers a 7-0 cushion.
Embiid finished the first quarter with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting.
His start was far different from Friday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics. During that game, the 7-foot-2, 285-pounder wanted no parts of the paint. And in the process, he struggled from the perimeter. He also didn’t make his first field goal in that game until late in the third quarter.
But on this night, he was a problem for the 6-11, 279-pound Drummond. Embiid dominated in the post and even stepped out to drain a three-pointer.
One of his highlights came when he got Drummond to bite on a pump fake. That enabled the Sixer to take an uncontested dunk.
His domination was so obvious that one Pistons fan yelled “You [stink], Andre” after an Embiid basket.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘You want to switch up, because you are playing against me,’ ” he said of Drummond. ” ‘You want to be all physical and talk [trash].’ So I was like, ‘you are going to get our [butt beat].’ I love that.”
It’s safe to say that he was well rested and motivated after missing Saturday’s game against the Toronto Raptors. He was sidelined because it was the Sixers’ second game on consecutive nights. Embiid has yet to be cleared on for back-to-back games.
He’s also still playing under a minutes restriction. And against the Pistons, the Sixers’ play went down several notches with him out of the game.
The Sixers had a commanding 21-point cushion in the second quarter. However, the Pistons closed the gap to three points three times in the fourth quarter.
But Covington responded with a three-point play with 7:09 left to give the Sixers an 84-78 cushion. Then, after three defensive stops by the Sixers, T.J. McConnell’s corner three made it an 87-78 game with 6:01 remaining. Then Covington hit another three to extend their cushion to 10 points (90-80).
Detroit later pulled within four points late in the game. But Simmons hit a pair of foul shots with 2:25 left to give the Sixers a 92-86 advantage.
Afterward, Embiid took over the game.
He hit a pair of foul shots with 1:56 left to give the Sixers a 94-86 lead. Then he grabbed the defensive rebound on the ensuing possession before converting a three-point play on the other end.
It was Embiid’s first game against Detroit. He missed the Sixers’ first matchup against the Pistons last season due to elbow inflammation. A season-ending torn meniscus in left knee sidelined him for the teams’ other two meetings.
Simmons’ lone motivation was getting a victory. He couldn’t have cared less about his first triple-double.
“I’m just glad we won, honestly,” Simmons said. “That means so much more than stats for me.”