DETROIT — Humility went looking for the 76ers and almost found them.
After toppling the NBA title favorites Boston Celtics, they weren’t looking at disappointment against the lowly Detroit Pistons. They narrowly avoided one and won 114-106.
“Did we just come off an emotional victory and weren’t prepared and ready to go? Probably,” said Sixers coach Nick Nurse, whose team struggled in the first half. “We looked a little half a step slow, and they looked two steps faster, right?
“Give them credit. I thought (Pistons coach) Monty (Williams) really prepared them. They had a very good game plan.
Friday’s game at Little Caesars Arena marked both teams’ first appearance in the NBA In-Season Tournament.
With the win, the Sixers improved to 7-1 and 1-0 in the East Pool of Group A of the tournament. The Sixers and the Pistons (2-8, 0-1) are in the same group as the Atlanta Hawks, the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The game ended with the Pistons blocking Joel Embiid’s attempt at a three-pointer in the final second with his team up eight points. The shot was fired but was stopped because the buzzer had already sounded.
But Embiid was well aware of what he was doing. Rubbing it wasn’t one of them.
“The only thing I noticed was people trying to fight me because they didn’t know the rules,” Embiid said of the IST rules. “When it comes to a tournament, points count. I wish that shot had counted – and actually, I didn’t know they were trying to fight me. So I would have liked to see that, but everything counts.
“It’s fun to fight for something else on the team. Wherever it takes us, we will take it.
Embiid heard that Pistons players and coaches were trying to follow him to the Sixers locker room. Several Detroit players and coaches were seen yelling at Embiid after the game. He was also booed by the supporters present.
“I guess there’s an unwritten rule,” Embiid said. “I guess in basketball you’re not supposed to shoot the ball when you’re standing, but then again, I’m like the other team, they were down 17. They didn’t give up. They were marking the ball.
He finished with a game-high 33 points and 16 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double of the season. Tyrese Maxey added 29 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, while Tobias Harris had 24 points. It was the third time this season that Maxey recorded double-digit assists.
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Reserve point guard Patrick Beverley went to the locker room at the end of the first quarter with right neck soreness and did not return. Meanwhile, Pistons center Jalen Duren, a former Roman Catholic, suffered a right ankle injury that ended his night prematurely.
Killian Hayes was serenaded with MVP chants while scoring a team-high 23 points. Cade Cunningham added 21 points and seven assists.
But this game was like the old heads playing the young balls at the leisure center. Embiid looked confused and frustrated by the non-calls while the young balls, mainly Duren and Marvin Bagley III, continued to be physical with him on defense. They also didn’t seem to care that Embiid was the reigning MVP or that the Sixers were heavily favored to win.
Offensively, the young Bouls continued to circle around him and the Sixers. But the Sixers leaned on their experience and eventually figured it out.
After trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Sixers came out with more offensive focus and defensive intensity in the second.
They outscored the Pistons, 24-15, over the first eight minutes of the third quarter. This allowed them to take the advantage 3 minutes and 22 seconds from the end of the period, 72-71, on two foul shots from Embiid.
The Sixers continued to extend their lead to 17 points in the fourth quarter.
With this victory, the Sixers remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. They also extended their NBA-best winning streak to seven games. Meanwhile, the conference-last Pistons are heading in the opposite direction, extending their league-worst losing streak to seven games.
Now, the Sixers return home for a two-game series against the Pacers (6-3) on Sunday and Tuesday. Tuesday’s contest will serve as an in-season tournament game.
Marcus Morris made his second appearance as a Sixer since being acquired along with Nic Batum, Robert Covington and KJ Martin from the Los Angeles Clippers last week.
The power forward entered the game for the first time with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
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The power forward finished scoreless on 0-for-1 shooting, with one rebound and two fouls in 6:02.
“I still think he has a place in the rotation,” Nurse said before the game. “Of all the people, he played the least, didn’t he? So it’s just a little bit trickier with him, so I’m just waiting for my moment here to give him a chance to see what he’s like over there.
Covington and Batum are rotation regulars. On Friday, Batum had three points, three rebounds and three assists while Covington added three points and four steals in 14:25 of court time.
“They fit in there really well,” Nurse said. “Obviously they were playing at a good pace. Again, Marcus hadn’t played at all (with the Clippers before the trade). It’s just a little trickier thing to maneuver.
The Sixers have, for the most part, stuck with a steady rotation. Nurse is pleased with how Covington and Batum have been able to fit into the rotation.
“I’m thinking a little faster than I expected,” the nurse said. “But we definitely also want to take a look at Marcus and see where he fits in.”