The Philadelphia 76ers’ first contest in their two-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks, a 124-117 loss, was as tough as you might expect when considering the circumstances. For starers, Ben Simmons remained out due to a non-COVID related illness. The Sixers were also on the second night of a back-to-back after playing a hard-fought game against Phoenix the day before, while the Bucks had enjoyed two days off.
The rest disparity showed from tip-off. It’s poor scheduling, especially for a game this late in the season which could have an impact on who is able to snag the No. 1 seed in the East. But the Bucks showing up and putting on a shooting clinic only made matters worse.
The Sixers’ offense didn’t fare too badly. Tyrese Maxey continued his spell of improved play, Shake Milton had his best game in a while and scored 20 points, Tobias Harris returned and scored 18 points with 12 in the third quarter, and the team shot 12-of-27 from three and only committed 8 turnovers.
It’s the Sixers’ defense that hurt them. The disciplined, communicative, engaged help and rotations that have solidified them as the 2nd-ranked defensive team this season weren’t on display for most of the night. They allowed too many open looks from three-point range and the Bucks made them pay, shooting 20-of-40 from deep for the game and 55.6 percent overall.
Joel Embiid guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo is clearly the way to go against Milwaukee. Besides Embiid being the best physical matchup to handle Giannis inside and contest his drives and shots at the rim, it also saves Embiid from having to keep running out to the three-point line to contest Brook Lopez’s threes. Forwards like Tobias Harris and Mike Scott unsurprisingly struggled against Giannis during the first half, while Embiid took on the Lopez assignment before getting more possessions on Giannis in the third quarter. Embiid — and his teammates — had trouble covering Lopez’s shooting (Lopez hit 4 threes on his way to 16 points), so whether or not Doc Rivers adjusts this matchup earlier on Saturday will be something to look out for.
Simmons returning would clearly give the Sixers’ defense a massive lift and make it far easier for them to match up with the Bucks’ wealth of offensive weapons. For now, though, he’s still listed as out due to illness.
“I don’t know,” Doc Rivers said after Thursday’s game when asked if Simmons could return on Saturday. “So we’ll see. Right now, I would say 50/50 at best, and I’m an optimist, but I don’t know.”
“It’s not serious where he’s going to miss a lot of games, but it’s more serious than we hope for because he’s still missing games. We just need him to get well.”
Furthermore, Furkan Korkmaz (right ankle sprain) and Embiid (right shoulder soreness) are both listed as questionable. If the Sixers don’t have either of their top two stars, it’s hard to find many remaining positives or chances for them to win this game. At 36-22, the Bucks are only 2.5 games behind the Sixers for the 1 seed.
If Philly is going to be this shorthanded, one of the main things to look out for is the play of young guys like Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey. Thybulle continues to be an elite terror defensively and has shown some promising flashes with his passing, cutting and finishing lately, while Maxey has had a strong stretch of overall play through the last few games.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 3:30pm ET, April 24
Where: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic