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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Detroit Pistons: Blake drops 50 and Embiid drops Drummond

Joel Embiid has won every battle, but Drummond’s improved defense might mean the war is far from over

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Welcome to Film Don’t Lie: The Definitive Video Breakdown of the Detroit Pistons. For more on this comprehensive video series, please see our intro post. In short, I broke down hundreds of hours of video, analyzing how the Pistons did against each team in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers finished 51-31 and lost to the Toronto Raptors during the Eastern Conferences second-round.

Philadelphia won three of the four games against Detroit with all four played during the calendar year of 2018.

Game One Game Two Game Three Game Four

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid worked Detroit, and specifically Andre Drummond, last season. Philly’s All-NBA big averaged 32 points on nearly 63% true shooting, complementing a generous whistle:

The frequent stops in play were as frustrating as the random 1 p.m. tip-off time from that game. Early afternoon on a November day in Michigan, and I would assume in Pennsylvania as well, does not scream professional hoops. Such an awkward afternoon spent on the couch:

Never again!

Embiid shot 23 free throws during that game and totaled a whopping 51 attempts in his three games against Detroit.

The stripes helped Embiid’s scoring efficiency and put Drummond into foul trouble, but his offensive artistry deserves most of the attention.

The 76ers loved to get Joel cooking at the elbow and have him call his own number:

Or survey the court and work out of multiple versions of two-man games:

Philadelphia made it a point to feed Embiid early in Game Two:

They were picking on Dre for a reason. Late in Game One, Embiid slightly embellished Drummond’s elbow to the face:

Their extracurricular antics make for entertaining Twitter fodder, but your distractions hold no power on Film Don’t Lie! Consider yourself lucky if the editor wants to hook you up with a link explaining the duo’s recent history [editor’s note: I shall oblige].

And don’t forget, he can put the ball on the floor and is nimble enough to avoid contact:

Embiid’s 96 total points against Detroit this year came on just 54 field goal attempts.

In an NBA world of small-ball lineups featuring 6-foot-9 centers, it’s Embiid’s physical WTF-ness paving the way to a well-earned unicorn status. When Embiid inhales the ball in an established position, like the example below, the outcome is almost an automatic bucket based on power generation alone:

Few inhabitants on our beautiful planet Earth posses the artillery to punch back.

Few, though, not zero:

Look, Embiid ate Drummond’s lunch last year, but Drummond wasn’t Embiid’s only lunch-less opponent around the league.

There is no such thing as an Embiid Stopper (although his new teammate, Al Horford, did a decent job), he’s too damn good, and only getting better. The difference between Dre and the rest of the starving bigs is that our guy has sufficient enough bulk mixed in with his bounce to stay in front of Embiid.

Dre’s checklist of physical features are the perfect storm of what the ideal Embiid defender could look like. Lot’s of tall guys in the league, lots of strong guys too, but not a lot of strong (enough) and tall. In theory, though, Drummond is assembled like the prototype of many fans’ daydreams but with only a scattering of actual consummations.

So is there any realistic hope against Embiid for Andre, our giant?

Hold your horses, big fella.

Laugh or eye roll if you’d like, but Andre Drummond improved immensely on defense over the last few years, and it would be a wee-bit premature to write this rivalry off as hopeless and lopsided.

One of the subtle techniques Drummond can use to help his cause happens before Embiid even touches the ball. As we discussed earlier, Embiid enjoys conducting business from the elbow - well, don’t let him.

Forcing Embiid to receive the ball a few feet away from his preferred area can make all the difference in the world as, mainly, it gunks up their precious spacing:

With Embiid away from his ideal spot, the Pistons can afford to be a bit more aggressive on the ball, and extra defensive limbs are now directly in his passing lanes.

Defending Embiid-types will always be a team effort. Below, the Pistons’ point guards save easy baskets by just getting in the way:

If Markelle Fultz knew what he was doing, we’d need one more rotation, but, for now, a stop is a stop!

Film ‘n fundamentals ain’t that sexy, I get it, but what about quickness? Is quickness cool? I would think so. What if I told you, as a player, internalizing film will make you quicker, would you believe me?

In many cases, targeted film study can help struggling individual defenders right their ship faster than any on-court practice could. Actively interpreting action and pattern recognition leads to a higher degree of anticipation. Learned foresight eliminates painful defensive hesitation making any defender quicker to the ball.

No NBA team has ever been shutout, buckets happen. But successful defenses enjoy fewer of these possessions:

And more of:

Two factors made that play: an engaged Hank the Tank who recognized the pattern.

Unfortunately for Detroit, defending Joel Embiid requires the attention of an entire village leaving little in the tank for one of my main men, Ben Simmons.

During 100 seemingly effortless minutes against the Pistons over the course of three games, Simmons posted averages of 15-9-6 on 67% true shooting.

He was nightmare during high-pace space situations:

Despite Detroit’s concentrated efforts to quarantine Simmons from the paint during transition, life, uh, found a way:

Drummond does a great job of showing length (arms spread open to discourage drive), but needs to take one more step.

A lot of defense boils down to awareness. When Simmons is driving solo against the Jon Leuers of the world, Drummond’s got to anticipate the attack, wall off the paint, and make sure Ben doesn’t get an easy bunny.

Simmons’ one glaring shortcoming isn’t classified information, the dude doesn’t shoot well from the outside. In turn, teams fall back and hope to entice the 6-foot-10 ball-handler into a perimeter-based shot.

The game plan may make it difficult for Benny to locate the rim, but it essentially concedes a paint touch and a decent look:

Everyone has ‘Simmons can’t shoot’ jokes, some shitter than others, but if there is even the slightest inkling on Simmons’ part to improve (spoiler alert: there is) then paint-touches are going to start translating into buckets more often than not.

Or, even worse, a relaxed “on-ball” defender secures a high chance at improving his assist total:

In a game of choosing potential poisons, I’d like to see Dwane Casey dabble a bit more in crowding Benjamin when he’s in possession of the rock. Sure, that comes with its own set of strenuous problems, but a free trip to the middle of the paint doesn’t seem like a lasting solution for a 23-year-old who, like his buddy Joel, is only getting better.

While we wait on his shot, the size must already be accounted for:

Skilled mixed with tall beats a lot of combinations because it allows himself to remain valuable without the ball despite the lack of a deep shot:

It’s so much easier to set yourself up to score without the ball than with it:

Cerebral offensive player that Ben Simmons is.

These two aren’t going anywhere:


Two-man games

I’ll admit it, I enjoyed the hell out watching Embiid and J.J. Redick’s constant cat and mouse game with opponents:

Their chemistry was undeniable.

On the year, Embiid assisted on 102 Redick field goals. With 136, only Simmons registered more assists on Redick makes. On the year, Redick found Embiid 55 times. Second on the team to Simmons’ 86.

With Redick now in New Orleans, does Josh Richardson fill his shoes in Philadelphia?

Griffin’s 50, and beyond

Blake Griffin dropped a career-high 50 points during Detroit’s lone win during the season series. Everyone in a Philadelphia uniform took their turn during the first three quarters:

Before Joel Embiid said, “Hold on guys, I got this”:


The game winning play:

Griffin had multiple opportunities this year to win games on (essentially) the last shot. Not many GW-attempts headed towards the basket like above, most seemed to be of the jump shot or fadeaway variety.

Finally, keep in mind, this was the third game of the season, peep how spry this man looks:

Compare that to your memory of how he looked towards the end of the season.

Everyone looks fresher at the start of the season, duh, but perhaps nothing is more important to the overall success of the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons than properly managing Griffin’s health.

Griffin played in 75 games last year, but lost his invisible juice towards the end of the season. Consequently, the team’s showing during the playoffs became a punchline.

It didn’t have to be that way, but I have a hard time blaming Casey for not fully grasping how to navigate an entire season with the fickle workload instructions attached to Griffin.

Pleading ignorance doesn’t hold water next season. Casey can not only reflect on his own recent experiences, but he’s able to use Toronto’s championship team for a prime example of how to successfully manage a roster and rotation while keeping the alpha dog’s minutes in check.

Newly acquired Markieff Morris will be tapped on the shoulder to carry some of the front-court load when Griffin is resting.

Morris comes to Detroit surrounded by rumors of bad attitude this, and poor locker room guy that. Funny, I heard the same dull gossip when Marcus joined the team in 2015, and I ended up becoming a fan.

For better or worse, the Pistons knew exactly what they were getting each night out of Marcus. Hopefully, Markieff follows suit.

Out of respect for your brother, Keef, you get a fresh start with me.