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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bucks Overwhelm Undermanned 76ers, 119-98

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted game-high totals in points (30), rebounds (12), and assists (nine) while leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 119-98 road win versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Damian Lillard added 24 points and seven rebounds while matching Antetokounmpo with nine assists, Malik Beasley contributed 20 points, and Bobby Portis chipped in 17 points off of the bench. The Bucks have won two in a row after beating the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves 112-107 on Friday. Tyrese Maxey topped the 76ers in scoring (24 points) and assists (seven), but he shot just 8-19 from the field as the 76ers shot 36-97 (.371) from the field overall. Joel Embiid missed his 11th straight game as he recovers from knee surgery, and his absence was felt at both ends of the court.

Hubie Brown did the ABC color commentary; he did the color commentary during Philadelphia's 104-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, so this weekend provided a treat for basketball fans who enjoy listening to Brown's insights. Prior to this game, Brown noted that Antetokounmpo ranks first in the league in paint ppg (20.5), first in free throw attempts per game (11.1), third in scoring (30.8 ppg), tied for third in double doubles (44), and sixth in rebounding (11.3 rpg). Antetokounmpo is having another MVP-caliber season, and Brown concluded, "Let’s hope that everything else will turn around here."

This game marked Doc Rivers' return to Philadelphia. Rivers, who improved to 5-7 as Milwaukee's coach, coached the 76ers for the previous three seasons before the team fired him last summer and hired Nick Nurse. Doc Rivers told the ABC crew that he is proud that he coached Embiid during Embiid's MVP season, and he is proud that the 76ers became a championship contender on his watch. 

The Bucks blitzed the 76ers 35-21 in the first quarter and Maxey started the game slowly, but Brown reminded viewers about Maxey's great fourth quarter performance in the 76ers' Friday night win: "15 points under incredible pressure…outstanding foot quickness…you just love his competitiveness." Lillard scored the Bucks' first seven points on 3-3 field goal shooting, and he led both teams with 11 first quarter points. However, during the playoffs it will be interesting to track the impact of Lillard's questionable shot selection: after his hot start, he airballed a 27 foot three pointer with 15 seconds left on the 24 second shot clock. The Bucks have a size advantage against most teams--and a decided size advantage against the 76ers sans Embiid--so it makes no sense to jack up a long three pointer without first challenging the defense with a drive or a post entry pass. Such lapses may not matter in a regular season game against a depleted team like the 76ers, but they will likely be significant in a playoff series versus a strong defensive team.

The 76ers missed 11 straight shots during the first quarter, and this fueled an 11-0 Milwaukee run that flipped the score from 17-16 in Philadelphia's favor to 27-16 for the Bucks, who led the rest of the way. Brown made an excellent point when he mentioned that the biggest challenge for players is to figure out the officiating differences from game to game. He said that it is usually clear in the first eight minutes how loosely or tightly a game will be called, but entering the second quarter it was not clear how this game would be called.

A light-hearted moment happened during the second quarter after Portis drilled a corner three pointer; he ran by the broadcast table, looked at Brown, and said, "Talk about that, Hubie!" Later, Portis came over to the broadcast table and said to Brown with a smile, "I gave you a little shoutout." Brown likes Portis’ game and is happy that Portis has found a comfortable home with the Bucks after playing for the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, and New York Knicks.

The Bucks have struggled defensively this season, and Rivers attributes this in part to the Bucks being "big, not fast." Rivers' solution is to employ more switching so that the Bucks keep size in front of opposing players.  

After the Bucks led 69-48 at halftime, Brown said that one key for the Bucks was "Lillard broke the defense down and made the passes." Brown also liked that Antetokounmpo did not force the action. Antetokounmpo is the first player in NBA history to average at least 30 ppg while shooting at least .600 from the field prior to the All-Star break, and he is seeking to become the first player to reach both levels for an entire season. Although Antetokounmpo's scoring efficiency is unprecedented, Brown said that passing is "the most underrated part of his game this year."

The 76ers mounted a third quarter comeback, and Brown noted, "Going small has really helped them a lot." The 76ers shot 7-12 from three point range in the third quarter as they shaved the Bucks' lead to just 11 points before trailing 95-82 entering the fourth quarter. However, in the fourth quarter the Bucks' size and defensive focus took over, and the Bucks outscored the 76ers 24-16 while holding the 76ers to 6-23 (.261) field goal shooting.

Brown talked about the challenges facing Rivers after becoming the Bucks' coach during the middle of the season. Brown said that it takes time to define roles while implementing offensive and defensive systems, and he added that the Bucks' "biggest problem" is their subpar road record. 

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:57 PM



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