Game Review | Shorthanded Effort Falls Short in Milwaukee

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Recap:

Toppling a quality opponent in the absence of an All-Star is tough enough as it is. Take away some typically steady 3-point shooting, and the task becomes that much taller.

Nevertheless, the 76ers forged ahead Monday in a visit to BMO Harris Bradley Center, giving Milwaukee a good run for the better part of three quarters.

There was the matter of Giannis Antetokounmpo, though, and he made sure his squad stayed on a roll.

Behind the Greek Freak’s 31 points (10-22 fg, 1-5 3fg, 10-10 ft), 18 rebounds, and 6 assists, the Bucks fended off the Sixers, 107-95, for an important mid-season Eastern Conference victory.

Monday’s win was Milwaukee’s fourth in a row since making a coaching change on the heels of a 116-94 loss to the Sixers nine days ago in South Philadelphia, and gave the Bucks 2.0 games’ worth of separation between themselves and the Sixers in the standings.

“It’s hard to pick a weakness,” Brett Brown said of Antetokounmpo’s game.

Dario Saric led the Sixers with both 19 points (7-18 fg) and 9 rebounds on a night they were minus Joel Embiid (load management).

Ben Simmons chipped in with 16 points (7-10 fg), 6 boards, and 5 assists, while being guarded by Antetokounmpo for most of Monday’s contest.

The Sixers, again down backcourt veterans JJ Redick (left leg) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist), had a tough time scoring from outside the arc, finishing the evening 2 for 26 from 3-point territory. Their first triple came on their 20th attempt, with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, enjoyed a decisive advantage from distance, converting 11 of 28 tries (39.3 3fg%). Sure enough, it was Antetokounmpo’s lone triple with less than five minutes to go in regulation that proved to be a dagger, 98-85, and positioned the Bucks to extend their streak.

Khris Middleton, named earlier Monday as the new Eastern Conference Player of the Week winner, turned in a key performance, too, cranking out 19 points (7-19 fg, 2-5 3fg), 7 boards, and 6 dimes. Matthew Dellavedova notched all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter.

All-Star Out, All-Star In

It was a noteworthy inverse that surfaced in the second of two meetings between the Sixers and Milwaukee Bucks the last 10 days.

A week and a half ago at The Center, the Sixers unleashed first-time All-Star to-be Joel Embiid for 29 points, and 9 rebounds. Milwaukee, meanwhile, was absent its stud, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined with soreness in his right knee.

Monday at BMO Harris Bradley Center, the script flipped. Embiid was out (load management), and Antetokounmpo was in.

Looking back on the final score, Brett Brown couldn’t help but highlight how the dynamics had shifted.

“Giannis played and Joel didn’t, which was the opposite of Philadelphia,” he said, while discussing the game’s turning points.

In particular, Antetokounmpo seemed to rise to the occasion Monday when Milwaukee needed him most. With the Bucks down 10 midway through the first quarter, got more aggressive, and was subsequently rewarded with three straight trips to the free throw line.

Between the end of the first and beginning of the second periods, Antetokounmpo scored 10 straight points, then assisted on five more after that, as Milwaukee dialed up a 15-6 blitz that vaulted them in front.

Later on in the third quarter, after the Sixers nabbed a 64-62 edge, Antetokounmpo had a say in 16 of the final 21 points the Bucks scored in the frame. Their lead stood at 92-83 going into the fourth.

“There’s a fierce competitor in Giannis,” Brown said admiringly. “He’s highly wired, highly competitive, and it just seems to gain momentum the older he gets.”

Brown believes Antetokounmpo has grown not only physically, but from a skillset standpoint as well.

“The evolution of him is something I pay attention to.”

Straight Shooting

Monday’s numbers didn’t lie. The Sixers - 2 of 26 from 3-point land - just couldn’t get into rhythm from the outside, regardless of how persistent they were.

Afterwards, Ben Simmons summed up the situation succinctly.

“I think if we would have hit a lot of threes, it would have been a whole different game,” said the Australian point man.

No other explanation was necessary, really.

The significance of the three ball Monday was magnified that much more with interior powerhouse and top scorer Joel Embiid missing. 

“Without Joel, if we were going to win, we needed a successful 3-point night,” Brett Brown said. “We needed to find points from somewhere, and we hoped the 3-point line would generate that without our best scorer. We just weren’t able to get that done.”

The Sixers’ two treys went to James Young, in the third quarter, and Robert Covington, in the fourth. 

Simmons, Antetokounmpo Meet for First Time

Heading into Monday’s game, there was certainly intrigue surrounding the primary offensive initiators for the Sixers and Bucks, and the extent to which the two tall, long, strong, insanely athletic gifted passers would match up against one another.

At the outset of the game, when the Sixers were on defense, there wasn’t a lot of one-on-one action between Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo, with the exception of a few switches. The task of guarding Antetokounmpo in the first half fell mostly to Robert Covington and Justin Anderson.

After intermission, Simmons had chances to assume a little bit more of the burden.

On the opposite end of the court, Antetokounmpo marked Simmons regularly throughout the night. The rookie came away with a couple nice highlights plays against the vet, like this fourth-quarter and-1…

and this off-balance drive the Sixers’ ensuing trip down the floor…

“He’s definitely a freak,” Simmons said of Antetokounmpo, whom the Sixers studied closely last season in preparation for using Simmons. “He’s long, athletic, and gets to the line a lot. He’s really gifted, and he’s a great player.”

Sixers Social:

He certainly was. Getting extended run in the absence of Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes - true to form - did what he could Monday to help the Sixers’ cause. On the offensive end, that meant a lot of rolling, and a lot of dunking. All six of Holmes’ baskets were slams, with this third quarter deposit the second-to-last of the bunch.


Up Next:

The Sixers will close out their four-game road trip Wednesday, and do so against a division rival featuring a few familiar faces. Squaring off with the Brooklyn Nets for the first time this year, the Sixers will also be lined up opposite Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, both of whom were sent to Brooklyn in an early-December trade that also involved Trevor Booker. In a loss at Minnesota last weekend, Okafor turned in a productive performance off the bench, scoring a season-best 21 points on 9 for 14 shooting. Stauskas, meanwhile, has been used as a reserve in all 18 of his appearances in Black and White. Since the swap, he’s averaged 6.2 points in 14.9 minutes per game, while converting 27 of 58 3-point attempts (46.6 3fg%).