The Philadelphia 76ers (51-27) returned to the site of one of their best wins in recent memory as they faced the Milwaukee Bucks on the road (56-22). In this one, the Sixers had the shot to secure another huge win but couldn’t keep their feet on the gas, losing 117-104.
Let’s break down the Sixers’ loss to the Bucks.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 28 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 11-25 FG shooting
Embiid took it right to Brook Lopez to start and responded well to his tough defense, scoring very well inside the arc. He bailed Milwaukee out by shooting 1-7 from deep, though. Defensively in the first half, he was either a step too slow or was preparing so much for a blown coverage that would lead to him having to help that he got a little too far away from his man.
Although he came out strongly on both sides of the ball in the second half, he wasn’t granted the chance to cap off the comeback as the Sixers floundered without him.
James Harden: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 4-9 FG shooting
Harden moved well against a tough defensive squad, getting into the paint and getting a step on good defenders. But this was a rough game for him because of his inability to take care of the ball. His five turnovers led to Milwaukee points way too often.
Tyrese Maxey: 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 9-15 FG shooting
Here and there, Maxey came through with a tough bucket from attacking the hoop or swishing a shot from beyond the arc. The young flamethrower once again hunted the Bucks, shooting the lights out with tons of nifty moves.
Bucks player notes:
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 33 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, 13-17 FG shooting
Embiid and Nikola Jokic are the most frequently mentioned names in the MVP conversation but the Greek Freak still looms as a strong candidate. Antetokounmpo scored at will and was a playmaker on defense. He created advantages himself and made the advantages generated by his teammates a formality time after time.
Jrue Holiday: 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 7-11 FG shooting
Holiday’s menacing defense on the ball led to easy offense for Milwaukee. The ball pressure he brings along with a stellar ball-hawk sense made Harden work very hard, forcing him into some turnovers that are typically uncharacteristic of him. Holiday also shot the ball well himself.
Khris Middleton: 16 points, 1 rebound, 8 assists, 5-12 FG shooting
Middleton was dealing as a playmaker and provided some complementary scoring, though most of it came in the first quarter. His impressive start was instrumental in the massive lead Milwaukee built early on.
As Tobias Harris returned to starting lineup, the Sixers went to the matchups they had last time: Maxey on Holiday, Tucker on Antetokounmpo. Philly switched everything early, though, having Embiid switch onto Middleton in pick-and-rolls. The Bucks put Lopez on Embiid and Holiday on Harden again.
The Bucks literally couldn’t miss a shot to start out, even with Philly’s defense playing decently well. Their first eight shots featured some tough, contested pull-ups. Even after their first miss of the game, Lopez followed it up on the offensive glass. The Sixers’ offense was working fine with Embiid in rhythm and again, their defense was far from porous. This was just a good team collectively playing out of its mind, scoring 26 points in less than six minutes.
After looking like a shell of himself when the Sixers snapped Milwaukee’s 16-game winning streak, Middleton hit some shots right over Embiid as he tallied 10 points and two assists in the first quarter. Antetokounmpo added 10 points of his own, leaving the Sixers in a 15-point hole after one.
Harden, after not attempting a shot in the first quarter, got the deficit to 10 with seven straight points. Paul Reed added a putback dunk and a tough finish. through Antetokounmpo’s chest. But with the Bucks’ offense still hotter than fish grease, it hardly mattered. Milwaukee generated a ton of easy looks with dribble penetration and Antetokounmpo’s ability to both run the floor and finish in traffic with grace.
The Sixers shot fairly efficiently but resorted to too many bad shots for having an offense so slow and methodical. The Bucks not only looked for fast breaks but got right into the sets and motions they wanted in the halfcourt. Doc Rivers has talked about the importance of playing on offense with pace all season long. The first half served as a good example of what happens when Philly doesn’t have it and the opponent does.
At the break, the Bucks led 69-53.
The Sixers came into the half with renewed energy on both ends. The defense rotations were crisp and the offense kept the ball moving, leading to good shots. Defensively, the Sixers did a better job of executing off-ball switches with Antetokounmpo. Rather than fighting to stay with him through everything, Harris would switch onto him while Tucker slid up to the ball-handler.
To fuel a big run to open the third quarter, Maxey stripped Antetokounmpo on a fast-break drive, drew a foul on the other end and made it an eight-point game. He then drained a corner triple, his faith triple in six tries. Embiid later scored on an and-one after Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul. The Bucks stayed composed and eventually pushed it back to 10 after a wild loose ball led to an open transition triple.
Embiid went to the bench early after picking up his fourth foul and the Sixers ran with a Maxey-led lineup to close the third quarter. Shortly thereafter, Antetokounmpo came back in and padded the lead. Reed and Jalen McDaniels were simply overwhelmed by the task of containing him as he ripped off seven unanswered points. Two back-breaking turnovers from Harden out of a timeout in the fourth helped the Bucks continue a 22-7 run that put the game out of reach. With four minutes left, Rivers emptied the bench.
Hindsight is 20/20 but in that scenario, I think letting Embiid play through foul trouble to match up with the fellow superstar (who’s also in foul trouble) was clearly the move in the third quarter or early fourth. He could have been subbed back in sooner in the fourth quarter and still played a fair amount of minutes. Rivers will likely make that call in the postseason and/or when Embiid isn’t fresh off of a calf injury. But he still played a part in the Sixers beating themselves.
De’Anthony Melton’s missed transition layups are going to be extra excruciating in the playoffs. It’s something he has to get in check before then or it will cost the Sixers some huge buckets.
The Sixers’ next game is another big one: a home matchup against the Boston Celtics.
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