The Philadelphia 76ers started their night at The Palace at Auburn Hills with a hearty laugh and all eyes glued on rookies Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen. By the time their road matchup against the Detroit Pistons ended, the rooks joined in on the fun.
In other words, the game opened and closed as a laugher for the Sixers.
In a 31-point blowout, it feels right to start off with the terrific prank Evan Turner and the rest of his Philly teammates pulled on Vucevic and Allen. As the public address announcer called the team onto the court for warm-ups, they let the two first-year players lead the squad out, only to pull the okie doke at the last second and strand the rookies at center court in isolation. For their next trick, they wiped the floor with the Pistons and snapped a five-game losing streak with a convincing 97-68 win. That's a pretty good night.
The Sixers played well in every facet of the game. They scored effectively, shut down the Pistons offense with active hands and feet, and imposed the tempo until pace didn't matter anymore.
On offense, every starter shot 50 percent or better from the field, and the two leading scorers on the team -- Lou Williams with 13 points on 6-12 shooting and Thaddeus Young with 20 points on 9-17 -- did the same from the bench. Six players scored in double figures, but in an interesting twist, the three main parties in the pre-game prank (Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen) all failed to do so. Even so, Philadelphia moved the ball well and dished out 26 assists as a team.
On defense, Philly flashed the energy and athleticism they used to achieve the No. 1 spot in defensive efficiency during the first half of the season. After a close first quarter where Greg Monroe scored 11 points on 5-7 attempts, the 76ers bigs ratcheted up the interior defense and held Detroit's talented beacon of hope to just nine points on 2-9 shooting the rest of the way. The D dominated from the inside out. Elton Brand (three steals, three blocks) and Thaddeus Young (two steals, two blocks) shut down the paint, while Andre Iguodala (four steals) and Jrue Holiday (three steals) disrupted passing lanes and harassed ballhandlers. In sum, Philadelphia recorded 17 steals and forced the Pistons into 22 turnovers while allowing just 14 assists and 31.6 percent shooting.
Turnovers created by the defense allowed Williams (team-high seven assists), Iguodala (six assists), and Holiday (five assists) to push the ball in transition and manufacture easy points. The Sixers swiped 12 steals and blocked four shots in the first half alone and turned those opportunities into 23 fast break points with a stunning 10-13 conversion rate. A pair of Thad Young steals and a Lou Williams block expanded the 76ers' lead to double digits as part of an 11-point run to open the second quarter. They earned a 30-10 advantage in fast break points for the game as their lead swelled to 34 points and finally settled at the 97-68 final during a largely academic fourth quarter.
Greg Monroe qualifies as the lone bright spot for the Pistons, but as mentioned above, he faded hard after a strong first quarter. The wave of big, athletic bodies Doug Collins had at his disposal wore Monroe down, although he still finished with team highs in points (20), rebounds (8) and assists (3).
The rest of Greg's cohorts failed to impress. Ben Gordon continued his sleepwalking routine with a 1-10 showing, while Tayshaun Prince nearly matched his incompetence with a 2-10 clunker of his own. Brandon Knight struggled to get past Jrue Holiday on offense and then to keep up with Lou Williams on defense, leaving him with just eight points, one assist and three turnovers to show for his 28 minutes of action. Rodney Stuckey managed a very Rodney Stuckey-type night with 17 points but just two assists and five costly turnovers. All in all, the Pistons offense looked flustered and flummoxed against one of the NBA's best defenses. Apparently the All-Star break wasn't long enough to fix any of the recurring problems in Motown.
After the prank at their expense in warm-ups, Vucevic and Allen happily joined the Sixers starters on the bench while Andres Nocioni and Francisco Elson wound down clock. A 31-point win on road is good cause for everyone to crack a smile and get in a good laugh, right?