The 76ers completely dismantled the Detroit Pistons Friday night to the tune of a 114-78 win, improving to 19-19 on the season.
Less than two hours before facing the Pistons (20-17), who were sitting at sixth place in the East, Sixers coach Brett Brown talked about his two all-star hopefuls, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and what it would take for them to be featured in the NBA’s all-star festivities this year in Los Angeles.
“Do you win? That’s the thing that tips it,” Brown said. “You have sort of a popularity contest that goes on for a while, and then you have a respect vote, and we’re looking for the respect vote.”
If respect for creating a win is what Simmons and Embiid are looking for, they made a strong case on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Simmons opened up on a tear, driving hard and often, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists by midway through the opening quarter, and he didn’t let up. He finished the game with 19 points, nine assists, and four rebounds.
“Ben starting the game out the way he started the game out, he made as dominant a statement as I’ve seen to start an NBA game,” Brown said of Simmons’ aggression in the opening minutes.
Embiid was right there with Simmons, complementing every move and helping to open up driving lanes while also getting his shots. He closed out the night with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
“That’s how we want [Simmons] to play,” Embiid said after the game. “We want him to be aggressive and keep attacking and I was happy. It just set the tone.”
With the Sixers’ two biggest stars making easy work of beating the Pistons, the rest of the team fed off their energy and benefited from the added attention they demanded from Detroit’s defense. JJ Redick completed two four-point plays en route to 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
The Pistons, who were without their starting point guard, Reggie Jackson (right ankle sprain), were paced by Tobias Harris with 14 points and shot just 38 percent on the night.
With 1 minute, 3 seconds left to play in the third quarter, the Sixers extended their lead to 40 points over the Pistons on an Embiid jumper. The lead was the team’s largest since they went ahead of Dallas by 43 points on March 17, 2017.
Embiid once again showed off the range he has on both ends of the floor as a shot-blocking threat and a three-point shooter. But what he did in between was just as impressive
“I feel like the game that we saw him play tonight is how I’m trying to grow him,” Brown said of Embiid. “Tonight I thought he scored and played in a more fluid way.”
With five seconds left in the first quarter, Detroit’s Dwight Buycks found himself guarding Embiid, just moments after having his shot emphatically blocked by the 7-foot-2 center. Embiid recognized the mismatch and promptly took Buycks to the hoop, swinging his arms through to generate a foul and then converting on the three-point play as the Sixers took a 32-15 advantage.
The Sixers continued to gain ground with defense leading to offense. With 3:20 left in the second quarter Simmons stole the ball when Avery Bradley made a bad pass. The ball rolled right along the sideline but Simmons stayed with it and went into overdrive on his way to a heavy-handed dunk.
“I thought the ball was going to go out but I just kept going,” Simmons said.
With a 36-point advantage heading into the final quarter, the Sixers’ starters, who all scored in double figures, were given a well-deserved rest and the remainder of the bench closed out the game.
“It was a great team effort and everybody played well. We’ve just got to keep on building on that,” Embiid said.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot helped maintain the Sixers’ lead through the final 12 minutes, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. Justin Anderson, who had not played since Nov. 15 because of shin splints, returned to play 8:28 and pick up four rebounds and an assist.
With the Pistons behind them, having won four straight and five of the last six games, the Sixers will now prepare for a trip across the Atlantic. They’ll face the Boston Celtics in London on Jan. 11 before returning home to host the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 15.
“We’re on the right path,” Simmons said. “We know we’ve got a big game coming up against Boston in London and that’s huge for us. But I think we’re on the right track.”