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Bucks 97, Sixers 77: Getting Torpedoed

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Sixers fail to learn lessons from Battle of Taranto, get boat raced by Milwaukee.

A microcosm of Robert Covington's night.
A microcosm of Robert Covington's night.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The closest mankind has ever come to acting out the first Death Star battle in real life is the Battle of Taranto during World War II. In that battle, a handful of outdated aircraft assaulted an enemy stronghold one thought impregnable and came home with a significant and inspiring victory.

Taranto was one of the strongholds of the Italian Navy, a base from which its complement of battleships and heavy cruisers could threaten shipping across the Mediterranean--their mere presence deterred Allied forces from entering the area, and the Italians never actually had to risk their ships by leaving port. Taranto was considered to be unassailable by air, as its relatively shallow depth--39 feet--protected the ships within from an aerial torpedo attack. (Torpedoes of the time needed nearly twice that depth to enter the water, activate and find a target without breaking apart on the surface or running aground.)

Nevertheless, the British parked a carrier group off the Italian coast and on the night of November 11, 1940, sent 21 Fairey Swordfish biplanes, 11 of them carrying a single torpedo each. These torpedoes were modified specifically to run in shallow water, and of the 11 torpedoes that were launched, five of them hit their targets, either sinking or disabling three Italian battleships at the cost of only two Royal Navy aircraft. Today, the raid on Taranto is most famous as 1) the first time one ship attacked another ship using aircraft alone and 2) the inspiration for the larger-scale Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor some 13 months later. But where the Japanese learned from this historical turning point, the Sixers did not.

In tonight's 97-77 loss to Milwaukee, the Sixers were undone by the very factors that the Italians once believed would prevent the British from attacking Taranto: a lack of depth and inaccurate shooting.

Parts of the Sixers' first unit played very well, and when the starters were all in, Nerlens Noel was a menace near the rim on both ends of the floor, with two blocks, two steals and four offensive rebounds. He scored six of Philadelphia's first 10 points off putbacks and dunks and finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 from the floor. When he came off, Furkan Aldemir was similarly aggressive on the boards, finishing with six rebounds in 18 minutes. (A dunk and a buzzer-beating jumper brought Aldemir to nine points against 30 rebounds in 70 NBA minutes.) JaKarr Sampson also had, if not his best game in the NBA, close to it, with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists for an inexplicable plus-16 in 24 minutes. The Sixers also had an uncharacteristically good night from the line: 25-for-29 on free throws.

So if Noel and Aldemir were so good, and JaKarr Sampson had the night he did, and they even shot free throws that well, how did the Sixers wind up losing by 20 to a team on the fuzzy end of a transcontinental back-to-back?

You see, I don't know if Tony Wroten got spooked by the trade speculation or if he just had one of those nights, but when Michael Carter-Williams handed the offense over to Wroten, he just dribbled. And dribbled and dribbled and dribbled, sometimes getting to the bucket with ease before forgetting entirely what to do when he got there, sometimes hammering a layup attempt off the underside of the rim, sometimes falling down entirely. There are nights when Wroten is Bad Shooting James Harden, but there are also nights, like tonight, when he runs like hell in no direction in particular.

Not that it would've mattered, because even though Wroten shot 4-for-19 (FOUR FOR NINETEEN), he wasn't as bad as most of the rest of the Sixers' scoring nucleus: MCW (1-for-13), Robert Covington (1-for-11, because Giannis Antetokounmpo gave him exactly the kind of problems you'd expect) and Henry Sims (1-for-8) didn't do a lot better than any three guys you'd pull off the street.

What really killed the Sixers was the play of their second unit. Even though MCW shot like the badguy's henchman in a spaghetti western, he at least exerted some modicum of control over the offense as opposed to running around entirely aimlessly. When Noel came out, it was a similar story on the defensive end--lots of lost assignments in the halfcourt, in addition to getting outhustled in transition at times and being cut completely to ribbons by O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. For most of the game, the Bucks were shooting around 60 percent from the floor, while the Sixers were doing their hardest to keep 30 percent within striking distance, and by the time Sampson, Aldemir and to a lesser extent Jerami Grant got their sea legs under them, the game was pretty much out of reach.

Playing for steals and second-chance points will only get you so far--if the Sixers don't want to squander more winnable games that include distinctly encouraging performances, someone's going to have to be able to hit a fucking shot.

Find the Milwaukee perspective at Brew Hoop.