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James Harden dominates again, Sixers drop to 0-2 in loss to Bucks

Philadelphia’s second-half comeback fell short.

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Sixers took to their home floor for the first time this season, as they welcomed Giannis Antetekounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to town Thursday night. Despite a 31-point performance from James Harden, the Sixers were unable to complete the comeback. A Wesley Matthews three with thirty seconds left was the decider and the Sixers fell, 90-88.

Here are some instant takeaways from the home opener.

First quarter

  • It was another slow start for the Sixers defensively. The Bucks’ 30-point first quarter started when they made seven of their first 10 shots. Despite being mirrored by P.J. Tucker, Antetokounmpo had a 10-point quarter on perfect 4-of-4 shooting.
  • While he certainly got off to a better start tonight than in Boston, it still feels like the Sixers need more out of Joel Embiid. His 11 points and five boards led all players in the first quarter, but it still seemed like the offense lost a step when Harden went to the bench.

Second quarter

  • Sixers fans can breathe a little easier tonight: Paul Reed is backing up Embiid.
  • De’Anthony Melton was a spark the Sixers needed to start the quarter. His seven-point flurry in the first four minutes was crucial to keeping Philly close in the game. It was also nice to see a couple makes from him after a rough shooting preseason.
  • Another encouraging offensive performance from Harden, who had 9-3-6 in the first half, while being chased around by Jrue Holiday. Just from eye-test standpoint, he’s looked much better driving to the basket than he did at any point last season.
  • It was a much better defensive quarter in the second for the Sixers, who only gave up 17 points in the second and was punctuated with an Embiid chasedown block. This quarter was easily the best paint defense the Sixers have played all season, and they were able to cut the lead to two going into the half.

Third quarter

  • The Sixers’ offense excelled in the third whenever they attacked Grayson Allen. Harden took advantage of this early, getting wide open looks with his floater. Despite that success, the Sixers were just never able to hit the shot to pull ahead. The offense once again really died once Harden was off the floor. The team scored just three field goals in the last 4:08 of the period.
  • Brook Lopez was a real pain for Philly in the third. Eight of his points came in the frame and he was also able to frustrate Embiid defensively. Embiid didn’t score in the third and had some really frustrating turnovers. The Wells Fargo Center crowd let him have it. Philly struggled with its superstar, allowing Milwaukee to take a 10-point lead into the fourth.
  • The Sixers went to Harrell instead of Reed in the second half. Take that for what it’s worth.

Fourth quarter

  • Despite how dead the Sixers looked at the end of the third, Harden did his best to make sure they did not go quietly into the night. He had another midrange flurry for eight points at the start of the fourth. There haven’t been many bright spots so far for the Sixers, but Harden has definitely been the brightest.
  • Harden’s eight-point flurry to start fourth sparked a 13-0 run that saw Philly tie the game up at 80. Tonight was the first night we saw the returns of how much work Harden put into his midrange jumper this offseason. Harden’s seven made midranges were the most in a game in his career.
  • It was clear to see that the starters still have some figuring each other out to do offensively. It’s not the end of the world, given it’s only the second game of the season together. They just weren’t able to get enough stops down the stretch and pull it out with their best player struggling.
  • It wasn’t the cleanest look Harden could have gotten, but that wasn’t the worst thing they could have drawn up. They went to the hot hand and it just didn’t fall.

The Sixers will try again for their first win of the season Saturday at home against the San Antonio Spurs at 6 p.m. EST.

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