When GM Elton Brand spoke pregame, he faced a lot of questions about his team perhaps not living up to expectations.
With more performances like the one we saw on Christmas day those questions could go away in a hurry.
The Sixers took down the NBA-best Bucks, 121-109, delivering a nice present to a sold-out Wells Fargo Center Wednesday afternoon.
Thanks to a monster performance from Joel Embiid and red-hot three-point shooting, the Sixers built a 21-point halftime lead and didn’t look back.
The win improves the Sixers to 16-2 at home and 23-10 overall.
They hit the road for a back-to-back starting Friday in Orlando (7 p.m. NBCSP).
Here are observations from the win:
The Process bests the Freak
This may have been the most locked in we’ve seen Embiid all season. As you’ll recall last season, Embiid took a career-high 13 attempts from three in a 40-point performance in Milwaukee. The Bucks are a team that will clog the paint and take their chances on teams making threes. With that in mind, Embiid was taking them early and often, making 3 of 5 in the first half.
He was also just as dominant as we’ve seen in a first half this season. Milwaukee opted to guard him mostly 1-on-1 with soft double teams occasionally. That didn’t work well as Embiid beat up on Brook and Robin Lopez to the tune of 23 first-half points. The All-Star Center definitely had extra juice for this matchup, finishing with 31 points (11 of 21), 11 rebounds and two blocks in just under 29 minutes.
Perhaps even more impressively, Embiid was tasked with guarding reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and did a damn good job. Despite an uptick in the Greek Freak’s three-point shooting, it’s clear the way to guard is let him shoot from the outside (0 of 7 from three) and try to minimize his drives. He was just 4 of 14 in the first half and finished the game 8 of 27 for 18 points.
Harris and Richardson deliver
A lot of the credit for the Sixers building their massive advantage goes to Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson. Both players shot the ball extremely well and presented mismatch issues for Milwaukee.
As Harris has proven lately, he’s perhaps the most versatile scorer Brett Brown has had. He did his damage in the midrange, from three and in transition. Harris said from the moment he arrived here that he functions best in an offense that moves the ball well. The Sixers did just that Wednesday. Harris had 22 points on 8 of 16 including 5 of 7 from three.
Richardson was a sizzling 4 of 7 from three to start and looks to be recovered from that wrist injury he suffered a couple weeks back in Boston. As Brown has pointed out frequently, Richardson features a unique offensive skillset for this starting unit. He’s strong in the midrange and does well in the pick-and-roll. You can see the chemistry between Richardson and Embiid developing in that action. Richardson cooled after halftime, but still finished with 18 points.
The Sixers are not a prolific three-point shooting team. While they’re in the top 10 percentage wise, they’re in the bottom third of the league in attempts. They shot 11 of 22 from distance before halftime and looked good doing it. Given the opponent, this may have been the best the Sixers moved the ball all season.
Even as head coach Mike Budenholzer went to a zone in the third quarter, the Sixers shredded it, as Furkan Korkmaz hit three straight threes and the team continued to move the ball very well.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee is outside the top 10 in percentage but attempts and makes the third-most treys per game in the league. The Bucks were just 6 of 19 at halftime against a Sixers team that allows the fewest made threes in the NBA.
On Wednesday, this was one of the biggest differences in the game as the Sixers (21 of 44) held a decisive advantage over the Bucks (13 of 33).
Simmons good against a good team
It’s been an interesting season for Ben Simmons, who’s looked like an All-Defensive Team lock and made his first two NBA threes. He’s still likely not shooting enough for the Sixers to get to their ultimate goal — a big topic of conversation pregame.
With that said, you sort of got a blueprint of what Simmons’ role could look like when all the pieces around him are functioning at a high level. When Embiid is dominating and Harris, Richardson and Al Horford are shooting well from deep, Simmons can be an elite facilitator (14 assists). This was a strong performance. He picked his spots to attack but didn’t try to do too much and took care of the basketball. He had 15 points (7 of 10) and added three steals and two blocks. Maybe most impressively, he committed just two turnovers. As a team, the Sixers tied a season-low with eight.
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