Sixers need strong performances from Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler to earn ‘best win of the year'


Joel Embiid was watching from the bench. JJ Redick was in the midst of one of his worst shooting nights of the season. The Pistons’ offense was clicking, and the Sixers found themselves down 15 points early in the third quarter in Detroit. 

Ben Simmons wasn’t happy with the way the night was unfolding.

“To tell you the truth, it really did start with Ben,” Jimmy Butler told reporters in Detroit. “He came out there and he said, ‘We gotta play a lot harder if we want to win.’ Everybody looked at him and was like, ‘Guy is right.’ Then we turned around.”

Without Embiid, who rested for the first time this season, the Sixers pulled out a 117-111 win over the Pistons Friday night (see observations). They needed a second straight 38-point game from Butler, a strong all-around effort from Simmons, and perhaps Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala’s best game as members of the Sixers. 

“Collectively, they found another place to go,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We got down 15 points and we’re on the road, and you don’t have Joel. To sort of regroup and stay committed and have a belief that there’s still a possibility we can win this game is, in itself, a statement. This was our best win of the year, under those circumstances. Very proud of those guys’ effort.” 

Butler and Simmons deserve plenty of credit, but the Sixers wouldn’t have won without Chandler and Muscala’s stellar performances.

Muscala and Chandler were among the many Sixers who split the responsibility of guarding the Pistons’ frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Muscala had 18 points on 7 for 13 shooting and three key blocks in the fourth quarter. 

“We need Mike being that way on the defensive end,” Butler said, “taking and making the open shot on the offensive end. He was huge for us. He’s not scared to get in there, challenge shots. We love him for that. We really, really appreciate him because if Jo’s not in there to do it, someone has to.” 

Chandler posted 10 points on 4 for 5 shooting and eight rebounds. He was a game-high plus-23.

Brown has often spoken glowingly of Chandler’s maturity and veteran presence, even when the 31-year-old forward was slowly working his way back from the left hamstring strain he suffered in the team’s first preseason game.

“He is an adult in the room,” Brown said. "He is a man, he’s been in the league for a while, there is a physicality that I respect. He’s a prideful teammate. He’s always, in a very sort of humble way, wanting to please and fit in and do the right thing. I’m happy for him that he had such an impact on this particular game.”

When asked about Butler’s performance, Simmons said, in jest, “I think he played OK.”

He had a little more praise for Chandler and Muscala, who helped ensure his plea for an improved effort in the second half wasn’t in vain. 

“They played a hell of a game tonight,” Simmons said. “I think Mike stepped up, guys made huge plays. Guys really stepped up. That’s the special part about this team.”

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