By Jerry Wein
Last night’s game in Detroit was one that Sixers center Joel Embiid might have missed in years past.
He had a monster game Friday night against the Celtics, but he slammed his back hard and was considered iffy to play last night against the Pistons.
But this is the new, slimmed down, focused Embiid, who had 33 points and 14 rebounds, and he sank two free throws with 7.2 seconds left as the Sixers sealed a 114-110 victory.
Ben Simmons added 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the 76ers, and he made a couple big free throws of his own in the final minute.
Philly is 12-5 and leads the Eastern Conference but didn’t push its lead over the last-place Pistons into double figures until early in the fourth quarter. That was when Dwight Howard’s dunk put the 76ers up 99-88.
Detroit trailed 110-108 after Jerami Grant made a 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds left, but Simmons calmly made two free throws to push the lead to four.
“I have the confidence to step up and knock it down,” Simmons said. “Especially late game.”
Delon Wright’s layup made it 112-110, but Embiid closed the game out with his free throws and finished 12 of 17 from the line.
Wayne Ellington scored 17 points for the Pistons, who led 63-61 at halftime and kept the game competitive despite being without Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.
“I loved the effort, I loved the togetherness guys played with,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “We continue to do that, good things are going to happen.”
Embiid scored 80 points in his previous two games, both wins over Boston. He said he had a sore back following a hard fall on his tailbone in Friday’s game against the Celtics, but he was able to play, and the Pistons had all sorts of trouble stopping him.
Embiid scored 21 points in the first half, keeping the 76ers within two even though Detroit outscored Philadelphia 27-6 from beyond the arc through two quarters.