3 Observations: Another Strong Embiid Performance Pushes Sixers to Win Over Bucks

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 110-102 on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Joel Embiid led the way, totaling 32 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.

Tyrese Maxey added in 24 points, four rebounds and five assists before being forced to exit the game due to injury (more below). The Sixers shot 51.3% as a team in the winning effort.

The Sixers were without James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Furkan Korkmaz (knee effusion) and Tobias Harris (hip soreness).

The Bucks were without Pat Connaughton (right calf strain), Joe Ingles (left knee ACL surgery), Wesley Matthews (right hamstring strain) and Khris Middleton (left wrist; ligament surgery). They were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 25 points and 14 rebounds. Bobby Portis added in 21 points and 11 rebounds.

The win moves the Sixers to 8-7 on the season. Their next matchup is on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Here are three observations from the win:

Embiid, Antetokounmpo put on a show early on

The matchup between Embiid and Antetokounmpo did not disappoint. Both superstars put on shows, especially in the opening few minutes of action. Embiid scored the Sixers’ first seven points of the night, feasting on open mid-range jumpers. Antetokounmpo made some highlight plays, including a powerful driving dunk after Embiid switched onto him. Embiid returned the favor with a highlight play of his own: A wild block on an Antetokoumpo shot attempt at the rim.

Embiid would cool off for the remainder of the first quarter, missing his final three shots of the quarter before checking out for the first time with 1:43 remaining.

Antetokounmpo finished the first quarter with 11 points, including knocking down a flurry of pull-up jumpers. The Sixers defended him mostly with P.J. Tucker, who did a solid job for most of the night. Tucker tried to match Antetokoumpo’s physicality, battling him throughout in what was an incredibly physical game.

Interestingly, the Sixers also had Paul Reed spend some time defending Antetokounmpo. Reed has a history, albeit over a small sample size, of being an adequate defender against Antetokoumpo. He quickly showcased his defensive skills, stonewalling Antetokounmpo on a possession early in the second quarter.

Reed has received the backup center minutes for the last few games, and he continues to show why he should get consistent playing time. Foul trouble is still an issue at times for Reed, but he has done a good job cleaning up his play defensively. He finished with two points, six rebounds, a steal and three fouls in 12 minutes off the bench.

Between Tucker and Reed, the Sixers nearly always had one of them on the floor to match Antetokounmpo’s minutes. Antetokounmpo, being one of the league’s best players, still managed to produce in a big way for Milwaukee. However, he did struggle mightily from the free-throw line. He had two empty trips to the free-throw line in the second half. He shot just 4 of 15 from the charity stripe on the night.

Maxey keeps Sixers in it before leaving game with injury

Maxey, after battling through a shooting slump the past few games, came out firing against the Bucks. His first points of the game came on a three-pointer with 8:56 remaining in the opening quarter. After that, he kept on running and looking to attack. His three-pointer from a few steps beyond the three-point line with 5:07 remaining in the first quarter proved he was in rhythm against the Bucks.

The 22-year-old scored from all over the court, connecting on multiple three-pointers and mid-range jumpers while also having a few crafty finishes around the rim. In Harden’s absence from the lineup, the Sixers have asked a lot more from Maxey especially as a playmaker. The playmaking is beginning to come around, but the added responsibility had a negative effect on him as a scorer. Getting back to playing his usual aggressive style against Milwaukee was encouraging to see.

Maxey’s efficient first half helped the Sixers keep the game close heading into halftime. The Bucks were red hot in the opening half, shooting 52.1% from the field and 47.1% from beyond the arc. They took a 62-55 lead into halftime.

However, Maxey was forced out of the game with 1:34 remaining in the first half. He appeared to turn his ankle on a drive to the basket. He was seen limping to the locker room before eventually being ruled out with what the team deemed a “left foot injury.” Head coach Doc Rivers said after the game, via Derek Bodner, that Maxey will be getting an MRI tomorrow to determine the extent of the injury. The injury to Maxey could not come at a worse time for the Sixers, who are already without Harden, their lone pure point guard, for at least a few more weeks.

Sixers grit and grind their way in second half

The Sixers came into the game with a smaller starting unit due to Harris’ absence from the lineup. Danuel House Jr. took his spot in the lineup, finishing with nine points, two rebounds, one assist and one block. The Bucks countered with a starting unit with three big men, and they had their way for much of the first half. Heading into halftime, Milwaukee was out-rebounding the Sixers 23-17 and had forced 11 Philadelphia turnovers. The Sixers kept the game close due to a combination of a strong half from Maxey and some hot shooting.

With Maxey out of the lineup in the second half, the Sixers resorted to more of a grit and grind style of basketball. They found a lot of success, especially in the third quarter when they outscored the Bucks 34-22 and completely took the momentum. After giving up 62 points in the first half, the Sixers locked it down defensively.

The offense in the second half, forced to play without both their top guards, was clunky at times but was successful overall. De’Anthony Melton, after going scoreless in the first half, scored the team’s first five points coming out of the halftime break. Shake Milton took Maxey’s spot in the starting lineup and excelled, connecting on multiple tough shots around the basket. Milton and Maxey combined to effectively run the team’s offense in the second half. Melton finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Milton finished with 15 points and seven assists. Depending on the severity of Maxey’s injury, the Sixers will need this duo to continue to adequately run the offense.

The Sixers’ offense was buoyed for much of the night by excellent outside shooting. Georges Niang finished with 17 points while connecting on 4 of his 8 attempts from three-point range. Beginning at the 3:02 mark in the third quarter, he drilled a pair of triples to give the Sixers a 84-77 lead. Not usually much of a driver, Niang also converted on an old-fashioned three-point play on a drive to the basket with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sixers finished the game shooting 46.4% from beyond the arc.

While the Sixers received production from all throughout the roster, Embiid was the one to close it out. He had been battling with Brook Lopez all night to mixed results. The Sixers held a 102-99 lead with 4:22 remaining when Embiid took over the game. He connected on mid-range shots on back-to-back possessions to help the Sixers increase the lead to 106-99 with 2:30 remaining. On the next possession, the Bucks swarmed Embiid, but the big man found Milton at the rim for a dunk.

Embiid has been unstoppable the past three games, totaling 133 points while leading the Sixers to wins in all three contests. If Maxey is out for any prolonged period of time, he will have to continue his dominant form in order for the offense to be able to function at a high level.