By Tommy Matthews
Say what you will about how badly the Sixers played last night in Detroit.
You could say it was their third straight loss after tight defeats by the Suns and Bucks, two of the best teams in the NBA.
And you could say that no NBA team has a right to get eight points from its bench and expect to win.
But this much is certain:
If Philly plays this terribly in the playoffs, it’s one-and-done, gone in the first round!
Former Villanova star Saddiq Bey scored 10 of his 20 points in the final 4:23 as thePistons pulled away and beat the Sixers 102-94.
Cade Cunningham scored 27 points for Detroit, which snapped a three-game losing streak and had a 39-8 edge in scoring off the bench.
Joel Embiid had 37 points and 15 rebounds and James Harden finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the 76ers.
“I thought we played with very little life tonight,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we were pretty good for about the first eight minutes of the first quarter and after that we just stood around. That’s something we’ve been doing too often lately.”
Detroit didn’t lead until the fourth quarter, and Isaiah Livers’ 3-pointer with 5:05 left gave the Pistons a 90-87 advantage. After Harden missed, Bey made it 93-87 with another 3-pointer, forcing Rivers to call a timeout.
Embiid answered with a dunk, but Bey scored seven points in a 9-0 run that gave the Pistons a 102-89 lead with 1:54 to play.
“We stopped executing in the fourth quarter,” said former Piston Tobias Harris, who finished with 14 points. “We weren’t stopping them on defense and we had too many turnovers to change the momentum. They just kept making plays.”
Embiid had 18 points and nine rebounds in the first half, going 10 for 11 from the line. Philadelphia attempted 20 free throws in the half compared to four for Detroit. But the Pistons’ 21-0 advantage in bench points kept them within 54-50.
“We played a complete 48 minutes tonight, and our second unit was a big part of that,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We even had Kelly Olynyk playing tough defense on Joel Embiid, and that’s not easy for anyone.”
Detroit stayed close through most of the third, but Embiid dunked over Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart to give the Sixers a 79-73 lead going into the fourth. He had 15 points and six rebounds in the quarter, giving him 33 points and 15 rebounds.
Marvin Bagley III left the game in the third quarter with a hip injury after landing awkwardly while being fouled by Embiid. Casey said he’s doubtful for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma City.