Sixers manhandled in paint during loss to Pistons

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Sixers manhandled in paint during loss to Pistons

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He said he was a little tired. He said they were all a little tired -- physically and mentally. That’s what happens after you come back from a surprisingly productive five-game road trip and you’re forced to play back-to-back games.

Before the Sixers faced the Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday evening, Thaddeus Young was asked what went wrong in the previous two games. He could have spent less time talking about what didn’t go wrong. The Sixers got smacked by the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Monday. Then they went to Cleveland and got smacked by the Cavaliers on the road on Tuesday. There was a lot of smacking earlier in the week, none of which was done by the Sixers.

They were tired. Or, rather, fatigued. That’s how Young put it. It was understandable.

What happened on Friday was less understandable. It had nothing to do with fatigue. The Sixers were fully rested -- and yet the smacking continued. This time, the Pistons handed out the beating, defeating the Sixers, 114-104, at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday (see Instant Replay).

It was the Sixers' third straight defeat. It was also their fifth loss in the last six meetings against the Pistons. Meanwhile, the win snapped a six-game losing streak for Detroit.

On the surface, losing by 10 doesn’t look so bad. Except the Sixers scored 63 points in the first half -- the second-most points in the first two quarters that they mustered all season. They also had a 16-point lead during the proceedings. So what happened?

“The difference in the game was rebounding,” said Young, who tied for a game-high 22 points to go with four rebounds, two assists and two steals. “That and when Brandon Jennings got warmed up. I think he had three or four threes. That was the changing point in the game.”

Jennings made four of his six three-point attempts for the Pistons and finished with 19 points and six assists. The Pistons, who aren’t a good three-point shooting group -- they entered the game hitting 6.1 threes per game (27th in the NBA) -- made 11 of 30 attempts from distance. It wasn’t surprising. The Sixers have had trouble defending the perimeter all season. They allow the most threes per game in the NBA.

Josh Smith also had a monster game for the Pistons, posting 22 points (including two three-pointers), 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and four steals. Only two other players in NBA history have had a line like that -- Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1978 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1992. And neither of them hit a three-pointer.

All of that certainly helped Detroit’s comeback. But it was what Young first singled out that mattered most for the Pistons: the rebounds. The Pistons beat the Sixers 62-42 overall on the glass and 25-13 on the offensive boards.

“I think their length bothered us the whole game,” Brett Brown said. “They had 25 offensive rebounds. We go into the game and you know that’s a problem. It’s going to be a problem. And it ended up a huge problem ... if you look at their offensive rebounds and their blocked shots, we struggled.”

That they did. In addition to getting beaten on the boards, the Pistons rejected the Sixers regularly whenever they dared to enter the paint. Detroit had an eye-popping 14 blocks. Six of those came courtesy of center Andre Drummond, who also had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

For the Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams made 9 of 20 shots for 21 points and four assists, while Evan Turner added 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.

But all of that felt almost incidental. The rebounds. The blocks. That’s where the Pistons excelled and the Sixers didn’t. That’s why the Pistons won and the Sixers didn’t.

“At the end of the day,” Brown admitted, “those are the two stats that stick out the most to me.”

To him and everyone else.

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

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Rewind 24 hours.

The Sixers were walking off the court Friday night after a dismal blowout loss to the Magic that left Brett Brown reflecting on Saturday, “Here in Philadelphia, at home, that’s not good enough.”

The Sixers had lacked fire and grit, especially with Joel Embiid on the floor against a sub-.500 Magic team that had played the night before in Memphis. 

They had a day to turn it around. A playoff contending Celtics squad was coming to town and Embiid wasn’t available because of his back-to-back limitations. The shorthanded Sixers (see below) had a tall task ahead of them. 

The Sixers reacted by jumping out early and kept the Celtics at bay in the first half. Even when the Celtics cut their lead to three midway through the second quarter, the Sixers responded with an 8-0 burst to go up by a game-high 11 points. 

The Celtics exposed the Sixers' defensive void in the paint without Embiid in the third. With the Sixers up 65-58, Isaiah Thomas drew a foul against Jahlil Okafor. That play sparked a 9-0 Celtics run over the next two minutes, in which Thomas scored six of those points (including four at the line). The Celtics took back the lead during that stretch and forced the Sixers to play catchup.

The Sixers cut the Celtics lead to one in the fourth with a three from Dario Saric, who played one of his most aggressive games of his short NBA career. After the Celtics jumped back up by seven, the Sixers kept fighting and tied the game 100 apiece. The Celtics were able to pull away and finished with a one-point win, 107-106, after Ersan Ilyasova drained a three at the buzzer. 

Inside the stats
Thomas exploded for 37 points (11 for 19 from the field, 2 for 3 from three, 13 for 15 from the line), four rebounds, and seven assists.

Saric recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, both tying career-highs. 

Ersan Ilyasova dropped 18 points, including three treys, and six rebounds.

Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez scored 15 apiece, with Rodriguez adding eight assists. 

Avery Bradley dropped 20 points and nine rebounds. 

Stauskas starts in place of Covington
Brown turned to shooting guard Nik Stauskas to slide over to the three spot in place of the injured Robert Covington (see below). 

“Boston’s perimeter defense is as good as it is in the NBA,” Brown explained. “I think you need to have more ball handlers, people who can make a play, on the perimeter … I feel that Nik has that ability to put it to the floor and disrupt that aggressive pressure that the Celtics backcourt can put on you.”

Broken ankles
Saric came up with the Sixers' highlight play of the game when he did this to Jonas Jerebko in the third quarter for an instant highlight reel moment. 

Always a student
Not playing, still learning. Embiid has been praised for being an eager student of the game. During warmups he sat courtside to watch film on a laptop even though he wasn’t suiting up. 

Injury updates
Joel Embiid is not playing in back-to-back games and sat out the back end of this home-home series for rest … Robert Covington sat out with a sprained left knee he suffered on Friday after colliding with T.J. McConnell chasing a ball out of bounds … Jerryd Bayless missed his fourth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Up next
The Sixers host the Nuggets on Monday night.