Three quick observations on Tuesday night’s 147-116 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center
THINNED – Going up against Joel Embiid with a line-up missing Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III would kindly be called a coaching challenge. That’s the dilemma – nightmare? – The Pistons met in Philadelphia two days after the 76ers won Detroit with Embiid from the lineup and Stewart in uniform for the Pistons. Stewart appeared to have injured his shoulder when he was fouled in a shot to the rim by Philadelphia’s Paul Reed in Sunday’s loss at Little Caesars Arena, but he wasn’t on the injury report and had a very late scratch with pain on the left shoulder. Duren missed his second straight game with right ankle pain and Bagley has been out since sustaining a broken hand that required surgery in last week’s Portland loss.
That left Nerlens Noel, who had played in just nine of their first 43 games, as a lone big man for the Pistons. Noel, whose peak last season was 19 minutes, played 21 minutes before sitting midway through the third quarter, and most of that against the overpowered Embiid, who finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. Noel contributed five points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. James Harden recorded his second triple-double against the Pistons in three days, this time for 16 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t just their apron where the Pistons lacked firepower. They had a total of four starters and six fewer rotation players. In addition to Duren, Stewart and Bagley, Bojan Bogdanovic was also missing with a calf injury and Isaiah Livers, listed as questionable, with his 20th placeth just game with a shoulder injury on December 1st. Cade Cunningham is, of course, out for the season after undergoing surgery for a left shin injury last month. Philadelphia’s 147 points was a season-high against the Pistons. Jared Rhoden, who signed a two-way contract last month, made his NBA debut for the Pistons in the fourth quarter and scored two points.
HIGH ON HAMI – Hamidou Diallo lost his footing on a rotation slot for a couple of weeks last month when the Pistons rode with Kevin Knox, but Diallo’s unique skill set and sheer hustle have kept him with Dwane in the two years since the Pistons acquired him from Oklahoma Casey endeared City to Svi Mykhailiuk. Diallo is listed at 6ft 5, and that may be generous, but his wingspan, toughness, and athleticism make him an effective defender against a variety of players. Thus, Diallo became the nominal backup center with no other clear option to fill that role. And Diallo predictably put everything he had into his duel with Montrezl Harrell, using his speed to disrupt frequently. Diallo finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes and hit 6 of 9 shots on a night the Pistons shot 40 percent. Since Christmas, Diallo’s impact has been evident in the net scoring: with Diallo on the ground, the Pistons have outperformed their opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions, and with him on the bench, the Pistons have outperformed their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions. For the season, Diallo is averaging 7.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 15 minutes per game while shooting 53.3 percent.
NO HOT HANDS – With the Pistons facing obvious challenges in the paint, perhaps it was no coincidence that they also struggled to shoot from the perimeter. The 76ers were able to develop a game plan that ignored the threat of inside goals and had little chance of hurting them from the offensive glass. In fact, the Pistons had zero offensive rebounds in the first half and finished with three. Saddiq Bey missed his first nine shots, six of them 3-pointers, and then made his next four, all on or near the rim. He finished with 17 points, ran perfectly at the foul line in nine attempts and shot 4 of 14. Killian Hayes shot 2 of 11. At a point midway through the third quarter, Bey and Hayes were 1 of 17 combined. Rebounding was one Challenge for the Pistons, but the 55-26 advantage Philadelphia enjoyed also had something to do with the Pistons shooting just 40 percent to Philadelphia’s 61 percent. Put another way, the Pistons missed 53 shots and Philadelphia missed 35 shots. Philadelphia, after scoring 68 points in the paint in Sunday’s win, came back with 82 against the Pistons’ undersized interior.