Off the heels of their tight victory over the Boston Celtics Wednesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers made their way to Detroit for their first taste of the NBA In-Season Tournament as they prepared to face the Pistons in a group play matchup Friday night.
The Sixers, looking to rattle off their seventh straight win, may have entered the game as heavy favorites, but the young and hungry Pistons were, and are, not a team to be overlooked.
Sixers engines seize in the Motor City
In what was very likely the worst quarter the team had played all season, the Sixers stalled out of the gates against the Pistons. Starting the game 1-7 from the field, the inverse of their record, oddly enough, Philly looked out of sorts and out of sync from the jump.
It wasn’t just their offense that suffered, as their defense allowed Cade Cunningham the opportunity to do his best prime DeMar DeRozan impression, allowing eight early points, all on midrange bunnies, to the rising star alone.
Though they brought it to within four just ahead of the two-minute mark of the first quarter, the team then allowed Detroit to go on a 9-0 tear to close out the quarter on three straight triples, including a buzzer-beater by surprise rookie Marcus Sasser.
In the second quarter, the Sixers would begin to round into shape but would still finish the half down by eight.
The third quarter’s the charm
There’s something about the Philadelphia 76ers and the third quarter that just sparks brilliance this season. Behind Joel Embiid’s stellar 16-point performance, the Sixers were able to find themselves on both ends of the court for a 14-point differential in the quarter.
This is not the first time this season that both the Sixers and Embiid have found success right out of the gate for the second half. On the season, Philadelphia has led the league in third-quarter scoring, averaging 32.4 third-quarter points per game.
That effort, in no small part, has been spearheaded by Joel Embiid, who leads all players in third-quarter scoring, averaging 14.0 points per game in the third frame. Embiid’s dominance at the start of the second half is only impressive when you compare him to the rest of the league.
Not a single other player in the entire NBA is averaging double digits in the third, with the closest being Kevin Durant (9.3), Tyrese Haliburton (9.6), and Steph Curry (9.8). Joel Embiid is truly in a league of his own, at least during the third quarter.
While the hope is that the Sixers can get off to a quick start in the first half going forward, their production in the second half is a comfort they can take, at least as long as it lasts.
Tyrese Maxey deserves his flowers
The Sixers ended the night with a check in the win column, in large part thanks to the efforts of Joel Embiid, who finished the game with 33 points and 16 rebounds, and Tobias Harris, who contributed 24 points himself. One player in particular stood out as it was another fantastic game for the Sixers’ new starting point guard, Tyrese Maxey.
The 23-year-old guard has taken to his new role quicker and better than anyone could have expected, and Friday night was no exception. Maxey finished the game with 29 points, 10 assists, and an incredible zero turnovers.
This is the second time this season that Maxey has accrued ten or more assists without committing a single turnover. For a point of reference, there has only been one other such game in the entire NBA this season, as Chris Paul did so earlier this season against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While he has not yet perfected the art of facilitation, Tyrese Maxey is well on his way to becoming one of the top guards in the entire NBA in just his fourth season in the league.
Closing the book and moving on
The Sixers will travel home after this victory as they prepare for two matchups in three days against the Indiana Pacers. The first will be a Sunday evening affair, while the second will take place Tuesday night for the team’s second group play matchup of the NBA In-Season Tournament.
It’s a bit odd to say that two consecutive games at the same venue against the same team hold different implications, but I suppose the hope from the league throughout this trial has been creating a mid-season version of the playoffs.
In any case, the focus of the Sixers is purely on their opponent, who they will have the opportunity to know quite well by midweek. Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner lead a squad that cannot be taken lightly. The Pacers currently rank at the top of the central division and are not looking to let that lead slip.
Tipoff Sunday night is scheduled for 6:00 PM EST.