The Philadelphia 76ers (8-3) were on the second leg of a back-to-back on Tuesday. They hosted the Milwaukee Bucks (4-6). Philly was looking to reboot their winning streak after Monday’s loss to the Knicks. Milwaukee was looking to snap a two-game losing streak. The Bucks connected on 15 triples to keep the Sixers at arm’s length and win, 118-109.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Bucks were without Khris Middleton (health and safety protocol), Brook Lopez (back soreness), and Donte DiVincenzo (left ankle).

Mike Budenholzer started Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bobby Portis.

The following were in the league’s health and safety protocol and were unavailable for the Sixers: 

  • Joel Embiid
  • Tobias Harris
    • Before the game, Doc Rivers said that Harris was feeling much better after being symptomatic last week.
    • In accordance with the league’s timeline for returning to play, Rivers expects that Harris will be the first Sixer to return from protocol.
    • He added that Harris would theoretically be on track to return against Utah or Denver during Philly’s upcoming trip, but that it could take them a bit longer to feel comfortable with Harris’ health before giving him the green light to return.
  • Matisse Thybulle
  • Isaiah Joe

Seth Curry missed the game to nurse a left foot contusion.

Ben Simmons missed the game due to personal reasons. Grant Riller, who is recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee, was unavailable for the Sixers.

Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Paul Reed, and Andre Drummond.

First Quarter

Grayson Allen getting right to the rim for a layup off of a spin move on Furkan Korkmaz in the first minute or so of the game was pretty indicative of what the Sixers seemed to have in the way of rim protection in this game.

The Sixers stuck to a sensible game plan of taking the driving lanes away from Antetokounmpo in the opening minutes of play. Paul Reed had the unenviable task of trying to make life challenging for the Greek Freak. The Bucks ran a few inverted pick-and-rolls featuring Giannis as the ball-handler so as to help him get a rhythm with his jumper. He’s too strong and talented to be held down for too long, but the Sixers limited him to transition scores at the rim and the occasional deep catch. 

Tyrese Maxey was hot in the first 12 minutes of play. He deposited a trio of triples, got to the paint a handful of times, and sprinkled in a midrange jimmy in the first quarter. You figured the second-year guard might have a fluorescent green light in this game, given the Sixers’ lack of depth. If you talk to Maxey, he exudes confidence. He doesn’t portray someone who views basketball as life and death. As such, he was calm in his role as the featured guard and trusted his preparation. To his credit, he took advantage of the opportunity with 17 points in the first frame.

Second Quarter

In limited run off the bench, Charles Bassey had a gorgeous block on Antetokounmpo, timing it late to get Giannis to leave a layup hanging on the rim instead of dunking the ball. Beyond exquisite anticipation, Bassey played up on ball screens a bit. Obviously, there’s some sample size theater there. But if that’s something that he can credibly do if ever given a true opportunity, that, by itself, is fine value given his pick slot.

Part of why the Sixers’ second units have always gotten torched is that they’ve never deployed a back-up big who could provide the versatility to play any coverage other than drop in the pick-and-roll. So, Bassey developing into a guy who has the size to protect the rim and agility to actually move when showing high would be late-second-round pick utility at its finest. Now if he can step out to the three-point line and knock down the occasional three to fit the stretch big mold, keeping him will become a problem.

There was one sequence in the second quarter that drew light upon why Reed is often out of the rotation. Reed tried to cross over, entered the post, reset the play with a late pass to Korkmaz, caught the offensive rebound from Korkmaz to save the possession, and then put the ball on the floor to try to create space for a jumper.

As soon as he puts the ball on the floor, nightmares ensue. When the offense slowed down a bit, Reed took it upon himself to try to make things happen. The Sixers need Reed to strike a balance between wing and big. He’s perhaps more skilled than to be limited to rim duties (although, his knack for put-backs is incredible). But, he’s not fluid or crisp enough to create offense for himself. The Sixers need him to catch, reed, and go. Rivers loves straight-line attacks. So, I’m sure seeing Reed try to cross over, reverse his pivot, and shoot fade-away jumpers provokes agita. Reed is a risk to get a little crazy as he tries to figure out balancing his skill set with appropriate spacing. As such, it is within reason to not trust Reed due to those sequences in which he goes rogue.

Whomever decided to feed the ball to Andre Drummond to go to work in the post against anyone should be locked in a small, windowless room for a week. The best source of offense involving Drummond scoring away from the basket is him tossing oops to himself off the backboard and going for the offensive rebound. I’m not joking.

Third Quarter

The Sixers’ perimeter defense continued to suffer lapses in this game. That isn’t much of a surprise, given the absences of Simmons, Thybulle, and Harris. But, the missing perimeter depth does not explain the complete lack of attention to swing passes on the perimeter. Whether it was on the short rolls or on hot potato passes around the perimeter, the Bucks were getting entire pockets of space to uncork threes. And there weren’t even late close-outs, either. The Sixers were essentially acquiescing and playing the odds on some of those open threes.

Antetokounmpo finally went to work at the rim, and Georges Niang was the unlucky recipient of the beating. He did about as much as he could to make Giannis work for the points. But, the Greek Freak earned his nickname a long time ago. He bullied the Sixers right to the rim and there was nary a thing Philly could do about it. Of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention that there was some help from the whistles in accumulating that point total.

Speaking of whistles, Rivers used his challenge in the third quarter this time. Of course, the play he chose to challenge had virtually no shot of being overturned. I guess the “thumbs up” guy behind the bench got his signals mixed. Classic mistake.

Fourth Quarter

Furkan Korkmaz has been excellent to start this season. But, it was quite the night to forget for him. Aside from a triple nickel, Korkmaz shot 2 of 15 from the field and 1 of 9 from deep. It feels like we’ve termed each of the last two seasons as breakouts for the young wing. But, he’s made significant strides across the board this season and has emerged as a must-have catalyst in the second unit. Can’t make every big shot every night. But, you certainly need him to maintain the volume of shots — especially when the team is short-handed. 

The Andre Drummond experience is him attempting to block a shot by putting his hand through the basket (which is a goal-tend), but also accumulating 45 rebounds in a span of like 27 hours.

Perhaps my eyes are a bit untrained in this regard, but the Sixers seemed more fatigued down the stretch from dealing with Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday than they did from playing a back-to-back against two physical teams. To the Sixers’ credit once again, they kept a game that they had no business being in close until the final two minutes. I’m not big on proclaiming moral victories for teams with playoff expectations. But, these last two losses are testamentary of the team’s character. Philly is a deep group. They just need to get healthy. 

The Sixers (8-4) will host the Toronto Raptors (6-5) on Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBA TV.