By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Milwaukee 107, Philadelphia 95 – Box Score
Despite their coaching upheaval and relative struggles this season, the Bucks still entered play Monday night with a 1-0 advantage in All-Star starters over Philadelphia. While Giannis Antetokounmpo was ready to take the court, Sixers fans were disappointed that despite earlier reports, Joel Embiid would not be playing in his first career back-to-back set of games. The team cited his “heavy loading” Sunday night against the Thunder, but remained hopeful Embiid might be able to play both sets of the back-to-back later this week.
Certainly, it’s a disappointment Embiid wasn’t out on the floor, but with league circles buzzing about heavy workload possibly contributing to DeMarcus Cousins’ achilles tear, you understand the caution on the team’s behalf. Unfortunately, there was still a game to be played, and the Sixers absolutely could have used their dominant force on the interior, because Philadelphia had absolutely nothing going from the perimeter.
In what’s often described as a make-or-miss league, Monday night was the ultimate example of a miss for the Sixers. The team somehow hung around in the first half, only trailing by a bucket at halftime, despite shooting a goose egg, 0-15, from behind the arc. James Young finally connected for the team’s first triple in the third quarter, but the Sixers finished the game just 2-26 total. Despite playing relatively well in other areas of the game, you’re simply not going to win in the modern NBA shooting that poorly. Get well soon, J.J. Redick.
As expected, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a force throughout the game, going off for 31 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 assists. Ben Simmons countered with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists of his own, but in Embiid’s absence, Philadelphia ran a lot of its offense through Dario Saric. The Homie played well for the most part, recording a team-high 19 points and 9 rebounds, connecting on a handful of tough mid-range jump shots that were the best shots the team could concoct without Embiid’s gravity to draw defensive attention.
The only problem for Saric was that pesky three-point shooting. After being on fire throughout January, he regressed to the mean in a hurry Monday, missing all 8 of his attempts from downtown. He, Robert Covington, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot combined to go 1-20, which is not at all the production you hope to receive from your starters.
One other bright spot on the night was that with Embiid sidelined, it meant significant playing time for Richaun Holmes. Holmes responded as he often does, by dunking everything in sight. The third-year big man finished 6-8 from the field for 13 points off the bench. All 6 of his made field goals were dunks, while the two misses were off target shots from three-point range (fitting nicely with the team-wide theme on the evening). Holmes also grabbed 6 boards in his 23 minutes, although only 3 of those came on the defensive end, which is an area he needs to improve in the eyes of the coaching staff.
The loss dropped the Sixers to one game over .500 and it’s easy to think the team backslid with the last two defeats. However, Philadelphia played better on the surface of things, actually taking good care of the basketball for a change. Losing on the road in a back-to-back situation to two playoff teams like Oklahoma City and Milwaukee (playing one of those games without Embiid), isn’t a death knell. Let’s see how they perform in what should be an easier outing Wednesday night in Brooklyn.