Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond was always going to be the real plot of the Sixers’ trip to Detroit, and in preparing for it, Embiid watched a lot of game tape and liked what he saw. “Defensively,” Embiid said of Drummond, “he doesn’t play any defense.”
Embiid backed up his boast, scoring 30 points in 28 minutes in the Sixers’ 97-86 win, which they led wire-to-wire. And maybe more significantly, he played the sort of inside game that he’s eschewed at times: constantly driving the basket and dominating in the post. Look how many baskets on his highlight reel came from the paint:
Was a desire to shut up Drummond’s own trash talking the motivating factor that got a 7-foot-2, 285 pounder to actually play down low, where he can often be unstoppable? Whatever works, though I’m sure Philly would like to see more of that in every game.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘You want to switch up, because you are playing against me,’” he said of Drummond. “‘You want to be all physical and talk shit.’ So I was like, ‘you are going to get your ass beat.’ I love that.”
Embiid’s domination opened up the floor for Ben Simmons (and vice versa), and the rookie responded with a triple-double in just his fourth NBA game, the first to do that since the immortal Art “Hambone” Williams in 1967 (and before him, only Oscar Robertson achieved the feat that quickly). Simmons had 21 points, 12 boards, and 10 assists, and I really don’t know what an opponent is supposed to do against a point forward who can move the ball like this and create his own shot...
...or draw defenders and find someone else for an inevitably open look.
“On Simmons, I’m going to take the blame on that one,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I didn’t find an answer at all with him.”
Is there an answer? Imagine trying to guard a pick and roll with those two for, oh, the next 10 years. This was the Sixers as deadly as they’re designed to be.
Still, this was Philadelphia’s first win of the year, so let’s not start planning those parades yet. And the bizarre usage of Markelle Fultz is still a concern. (As is his role when he’s healthy; a sizable part of his skillset is stuff that Simmons might do even better.)
Even with Simmons and especially with Embiid, there’s a lot that could go wrong. But when it goes right...man.