PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid shook off lingering pain in his right knee and scored 30 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 110-102 win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night.
Embiid remains hampered by a right knee that hasn’t been right since he suffered a torn meniscus during last season’s playoffs. Embiid’s numbers were off a bit compared to his careers bests, yet the 7-footer has played in every game with the Sixers still without fellow All-Star Ben Simmons.
Embiid’s health was debated to the point that some fans and media believed the center should take the game off against the winless Pistons and give him one more day of rest before the Sixers play Saturday.
With their habit of blowing large leads again haunting the Sixers, Embiid came back in the game late in the fourth and hit a free throw to push the lead back to 10.
The 76ers watched a 14-point edge evaporate in a loss to Brooklyn in the home opener and last season’s Eastern Conference semifinal loss to Atlanta was plagued by lost leads, notably blowing a 26-point lead in a Game 5 loss.
It almost happened again after former Villanova standout Saddiq Bey buried a 3 that pulled the Pistons to 101-94 and another that made it 103-97.
Embiid, though, sank four free throws and buried a 3 from the top of the arc down the stretch that saved the Sixers from a complete collapse.
Embiid went through shootaround and a pregame workout feeling healthy enough to give the game a try. Embiid, who has a history of injuries, was NBA MVP runner-up last season and one strike against him was games played: He played in 51 games while Denver’s Nikola Jokic played all 72. Embiid had plenty of reasons to play -- and made the Pistons pay.
Bad knee or not, he was his usual dominant self. Embiid crashed on the court several times and was even whistled for a technical foul for trash-talking Luke Garza after a rim-crushing dunk.
Embiid dumped a behind-the-back pass to Tyrese Maxey for a baseline 3-pointer and a 48-43 lead. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the first half to send the Sixers into the break with a 52-46 lead.
Bey led the Pistons with 19 points. The Pistons missed 10 of their first 12 shots and their first seven 3s and fell to 0-4.
Tobias Harris scored 17 points and Maxey had 16 for the Sixers.
Pistons: Bey marked his return to the area and received a smattering of applause during pregame introductions. Coach Dwane Casey credited Villanova coach Jay Wright for turning Bey into a strong pro. “Jay Wright does a great job of preparing his guys for the NBA. Well-prepared, knows the game, coachable,” he said. “Doesn’t take coaching as criticism. That comes from being with coach Wright the whole time.”
76ers: G Shake Milton made his season debut after sitting out with a sprained right ankle. He hit a 3 in the fourth for a 90-72 lead.
Simmons continues to work out with the Sixers and was at the morning shootaround. Simmons, who asked to be traded in the offseason, has yet to play this season.
“The back is getting better,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s more about the mental. Yeah, that’s where it’s at.”
Pistons: Host Orlando on Saturday.
76ers: Continue a four-game homestand against Atlanta on Saturday. Portland and Chicago are in town next week.