“The best way to describe tonight,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders said, “is that we pretty much grinded it out.”
Iverson, who leads Philadelphia and is third in the NBA in scoring, missed the game after undergoing oral surgery to remove an abscessed wisdom tooth earlier in the day. His status for Wednesday night’s game at Milwaukee is uncertain.
The Sixers were also without former All-Star Chris Webber because of a lower back injury.
“It was a good win for us, because without their two big stars it’s easy to let your guard down,” Billups said. “I thought we came in very aggressive and took control of the game. We pretty much controlled the game the entire way.
“We’re starting to get better and that’s all we can ask. Our effort is there every single night now, and we’re picking up our defensive intensity.”
Without Iverson, who leads the NBA in minutes per game (43.4) and is averaging 28.7 points, Philadelphia predictably struggled on offense. His replacement in the starting lineup, Willie Green, led the 76ers with a season-high 24 points while Andre Iguodala added 13. Samuel Dalembert was active inside with eight points and 15 rebounds.
“Willie was good,” 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Driving the basketball was one of the things we stressed and he was certainly the guy that did it.”
Still, it wasn’t nearly enough. Philadelphia (4-6) shot just 40 percent from the field and missed nine first-half layups, losing for the sixth time in seven games.
After a tight first half, Detroit opened up some breathing room in the third quarter. Hamilton—who had just four points at halftime—hit a pair of 3-pointers and Antonio McDyess followed up his own missed free throw with a layup that gave the Pistons a 73-59 lead with 37 seconds left in the period.
Philadelphia made its final run early in the fourth quarter, as Rodney Carney’s basket trimmed Detroit’s lead to 78-72 with 8:45 left. But Prince followed with a pair of free throws, then drained a 3-pointer as the Pistons built their lead back to double digits, where it remained the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to use our energy more,” Green said. “In order for us to win without Allen and Chris, we need to use our energy and get out and run more.”
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard presented the honorary tip-off before the game. Howard, who led the majors with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs, was selected National League MVP on Monday. … Detroit has now won nine of its last 10 against the 76ers, including four straight. … Philadelphia also was without Steven Hunter (right knee sprain). … 76ers forward Steven Smith made his NBA debut late in the fourth quarter. Smith played college basketball in Philadelphia at La Salle University.