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October 26, 2019

Instant observations: Sixers get tough road win over Pistons behind big Tobias Harris night

14_Mike_Scott_Sixers_76ersvsCeltics_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/Kate Frese

Mike Scott during the Philadelphia 76ers game against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on October 23, 2019. (Kate Frese/PhillyVoice)

The Sixers looked to be on their way to their first loss of the season against the Detroit Pistons, but a huge third quarter from Tobias Harris and hot shooting from Mike Scott kept the Sixers alive, and they would eventually pull away in the fourth for a 117-111 win on the road.

Here's what I saw on Saturday night.

The Good

• Had to feel good for Matisse Thybulle to get a start in his second career game, even if it was injury-related.

• Mike Scott isn't going to offer too much else other than great quotes and good vibes off of the court, but as long as he shoots the hell out of the ball, that's just fine. If not for Scott cashing out on his first-half looks, the Pistons might have been able to build a decent-sized lead at halftime. And he kept the momentum rolling in the second half, playing an integral role in Philly's comeback.

Memo to the Detroit Pistons: cover this guy.

I'm not sure it mattered who was delivering him the ball on Saturday, because Scott was in a nice little zone, but it sure seemed like he and Raul Neto had a nice understanding going in the limited minutes they played together. Neto hit him right in his shooting pocket to cut down on the release time of a couple of Scott's makes, and while that's a small detail, the small details can be the difference between role players succeeding and failing a lot of the time.

• There have been very few times where you have watched a Sixers game since Tobias Harris joined the team in February and thought, "Man, that guy is taking over." It's not necessarily the way he approaches the game, and in fairness, they didn't really need him in that role last year.

This season, they absolutely do, and Harris delivered a monster third quarter with the rest of his teammates tripping all over themselves. Harris didn't even have to alter the way he was playing all that much to get it done — he scored off of a pair of lobs from Ben Simmons, a kick out from Matisse Thybulle, and the shooting touch that eluded him for most of the preseason seemed to come roaring back all at once, with Harris putting up 16 points in the quarter before it was all said and done.

I suppose that's what makes Harris sort of a frustrating player to get a read on at times. He's capable of these scoring outbursts where he takes over without even having to dominate the ball, but when they're desperate f•or offense, you almost want him to change how he goes about his business and demand the ball more. As long as he ultimately delivers when they need him to, that's all that matters.

They are going to need a lot more nights like this from Harris, who may have had his best night in a Sixers uniform on Saturday.

• The Detroit Pistons were absolutely daring Ben Simmons to shoot threes on Saturday. When he dumped the ball to Al Horford in the post, the Pistons hard doubled and then didn't exactly fly back to the perimeter to bother him. And his style of downhill, physical play was neutered by foul trouble, which turned what could have been aggressive trips to the rim into wonky runners and floaters that never had a real chance to go in.

That said, credit to him for still making the same effort to attack despite a lot of misses and struggles early. He played with coast-to-coast urgency deep into the game, and eventually, he broke through, coming up with some massive defensive plays as well as a coast-to-coast finish that was a straight-up effort play with both teams running on fumes in the middle of the fourth quarter.

And it's worth noting, in spite of a poor night on offense, Simmons came up with seven steals against Detroit, never dropping his head or packing it in when things got tough. 

• You can apply a lot of the same praise from the second paragraph to Al Horford, whose touch eluded him for most of the game right up until the Sixers really needed it. And when it was time to put the Pistons away in the fourth quarter, it was Horford who drove the stake through their heart, nailing a pair of important threes and using the subsequent attention on closeouts to drive to the bucket for a dunk.

You will probably recognize the look of this play, because it's something Horford tortured Joel Embiid with when he was with the Celtics the last few years:

The beauty of Horford's offensive game is not dissimilar from Harris in that he can hurt you all over the place, and the Sixers needed all of it to close this one out on the road. With the backup centers they had in years past, the Sixers lose this game by a lot. Horford was the difference.

• A general note here — you don't typically earn No. 1 seeds by just blowing the doors off of everyone all season. It means you have to survive and persevere on nights when shots aren't dropping, absorb injuries as if you didn't lose anyone, and come together as a group to overcome shortcomings. No one is going to reflect on this game too much when mid-April rolls around, but you have to pile up wins however you can get them. Good gut-check win for a group still finding their footing. 

• I really liked the decision from Brett Brown to stick with his entire starting lineup for most of the third quarter, neutralizing the bench advantage the Pistons had exploited in the first half. Some of that can probably just be attributed to Harris having the hot hand, but he stuck with his best five until the final couple minutes of the third, and it brought them back within striking distance.

How about the all-bench unit completing the comeback, by the way? It was a risk for Brown to do a full line change after the starters made up most of the ground, but it paid off, and they handed the starting unit a tie ballgame to open the fourth.

• If a young bench wing is going to get minutes, it should be Shake Milton. I think we can basically leave it at that.

The Bad

• Brett Brown spent the entire preseason reassuring the public that the Sixers had enough shooters to get by when the games counted, telling reporters he thought it was topic that had been "overrated" by the public. Well, I suppose we're going to have to wait and see if that's the case, because it certainly hasn't felt like it so far.

Zone defense has slowly crept its way to prominence around the league, but teams can use it fairly liberally against the Sixers the way they've been shooting. It's not like Philadelphia has been missing highly-contested shots from the perimeter, nor is it a case of a bunch of bit players from the bench missing shots.

Here's the good news — they came roaring back as a group in the second half, with Al Horford canning a pair of huge triples late in the fourth to help put it away. If they improve here, they could be scary good.

• Look, I get why Brown gave Korkmaz a chance in the rotation to start the season, I really do. I can also understand why he decided to go with Richardson as the team's backup point guard to start the year. But the latter is probably going to have to change because it is a contributing factor in Korkmaz getting minutes, and he was an absolute trainwreck against Detroit. Not only did he stink on ice defensively, he couldn't get absolutely anything going on offense. 

Playing Richardson in the backup point guard spot means the Sixers have to fill minutes on the wing, and they don't really have good options there. Heck, even the guys who are entrenched in the rotation have flaws, so going even deeper into the bench to find minutes seems like something you want to avoid. I get that Trey Burke and Raul Neto aren't exactly dynamic options, but they're at least NBA players, and they do more of what the Sixers need than someone like Korkmaz.

Philadelphia needs guys who can get them into their sets and make life easier for a set of limited playmakers, so a real backup point guard needs to emerge. And by needs to emerge, I mean Brown just needs to play one.

• Related to the last topic — Detroit's bench was a +46 in the first half, compared to -22 for Philadelphia's second-unit. Yes, the Sixers' starting five should be expected to carry them, but they shouldn't get absolutely carved up by other benches.

• This is Matisse Thybulle dribbling in transition:

The Ugly

• There are going to be a lot of ugly, physical, foul-plagued games for this team. If they come out on the winning side, that's going to be something most fans are willing to live with, but it's a lot tougher to watch this style if it doesn't come with a W at the end. 

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