The Philadelphia 76ers were without Joel Embiid (rest) for the first time this season Friday night, and the Detroit Pistons tried their best to take advantage of his absence.
Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond dominated inside for most of the game, but the Sixers turned up their defensive pressure in the fourth quarter. The Sixers walked away with a 117-111 victory in Little Caesars Arena, outscoring them 22-11 in the final 8:36 of the game.
Following the win against the Pistons, the Sixers are now 9-3 since Jimmy Butler joined the team. Butler has simply brought an edge to the group, and most of that comes from his ability to close out games.
Before Friday night, Butler ranked second in the league in points scored during the fourth quarter (8.3). He again gave the Sixers a boost on offense in the third quarter, dropping 13 of his 38 points in the frame.
Butler showed his impact on the defensive end as well, as he locked up Griffin in the fourth quarter. Griffin had 31 points, but just five of them came in the fourth. With 1:48 left in the game, Butler drew a charge against Griffin and the two began jawing as they walked back up the floor.
The All-Star guard came through when the Sixers needed him again, and with the team moving to 18-9, the trade for Butler is looking better with each game.
Muscala had one of his best games as a member of the Sixers on Friday, as he was a quality floor spacer on offense and played good interior defense in the fourth quarter.
The team’s offseason acquisition scored 18 points, and he tied his season-high with four 3-pointers. Muscala’s contributions on the defensive end, though, were arguably more important than his shooting.
Over roughly the last six minutes of the game, Muscala and Ben Simmons combined for all five of Philadelphia’s blocks. The two helped defend the paint well as the Pistons attacked the rim hard.
Though Embiid is a luxury on both offense and defense, a game like this serves as a quality reminder for the Sixers. They have players like Muscala who can produce if more contribution is needed.
Embiid is the Sixers’ top rebounder, but Simmons took on that role against the Pistons. He led the team with 14 boards and had two of the Sixers’ five blocks down the stretch. In total, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year finished the night with three blocks.
The difference Simmons made on the defensive end was positive sight, especially considering Butler and coach Brett Brown have talked about his potential on defense.
Butler said after the Sixers’ recent win over the Washington Wizards that his young teammate “can literally switch one through five.”
Simmons scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, but his play on defense during this game should be the main takeaway. If he can be an impactful defender, the Sixers have the potential to be a quality team on both ends. Especially with Embiid holding down the middle while Simmons and Butler handle the perimeter.