"It was one of those games that was like going to the dentist," Saunders said. "It was like pulling teeth."
Tayshaun Prince scored 15 points, and Pistons made a key late defensive play to hold on for their fourth home victory in four games, an 83-78 decision Friday night.
Detroit missed several chances to put the Sixers away early in the fourth quarter and never shook them until the final seconds.
Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 79-78 with less than 15 seconds to play, but Chauncey Billups made two free throws and the Pistons forced Iguodala into an awkward shot at the other end that missed the rim.
The rebound went to Prince, who cleared it to ensure Detroit's second consecutive win.
Iguodala had 17 points and six assists for the Sixers, who lost their second in a row. Reserve Louis Williams, one of just three Philadelphia players to leave the bench, added 15 points.
The Pistons scored the first six points of the second quarter to take the lead for good, but ended the half with a season-low 40 points and a two-point lead.
"They didn't play too well and I thought some of that was because of our defense," Iguodala said. "In the end, the ball just didn't roll our way."
Detroit had an 11-point lead midway through the final quarter.
"We tried to force them into mistakes, but they don't turn the ball over a lot," said Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks, whose team has 14 turnovers. "Overall, I thought our game was good. They made shots down the stretch because that's what they do."
Detroit forward Rasheed Wallace, nursing a sore knee since Nov. 11, missed the game and it showed on the boards, where the Sixers outrebounded the Pistons 47-36.
Richard Hamilton, the Pistons' leading scorer, played with flu-like symptoms and was 4-for-16 from the floor and finished with 11 points, seven below his average. Given Hamilton's illness and Wallace's absence, Saunders made liberal use of his reserves, who combined for 20 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
"I thought our bench was great," Billups said. "They took the game to another level for us when we came out in the first and second quarter."
- X-rays of Wallace's knee Friday revealed no structural damage.
- Sixers F Kyle Korver missed his third consecutive game because of a groin strain.