The last time the Sixers played the Bucks, it wasn’t pretty.
Back on Oct. 24, Milwaukee took control early and the game was a blowout. The Sixers’ starters that night: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz.
What a difference a few months and a couple blockbuster trades can make.
The Sixers’ new-look starting five, playing in just its seventh game together, turned in its finest performance with a 130-125 win in Milwaukee Sunday afternoon (see observations), clinching a playoff spot in the process.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was a monster with 52 points, but Joel Embiid was no slouch with 40 of his own along with 15 rebounds and six assists.
“I think when you ask about Joel, the thing that most stood out to me was there was a fierce level of competitiveness that he played with tonight,” Brown said to reporters postgame. “It was at an A-level. It was at a playoff level. And the physical side of things — throwing his body into things — just was extremely competitive.”
In a game against the NBA’s best and in a fight for the East’s third seed, there was a playoff feel to this one.
There’s been a lot made of the Sixers’ inability to beat the Eastern Conference’s elite. Going into Sunday, the Sixers were just 1-7 against the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics — that one win coming against a depleted Toronto team.
But that was then and this is now. This team looks nothing like the first iteration Milwaukee saw. In what could’ve been a possible playoff preview, “Sixers 3.0,” as JJ Redick called it, turned in its most impressive win of the season.
“We had only played six games. Think of that number. Truly, think about that number,” Brown said. “And to play against one of the more consistent teams in the league — as it sits, best team in the NBA [and] the best defensive team in the NBA — and try to learn and grow our team and move it forward.
“There’s some talent in that room, no doubt about it, but there’s no right to have a fluid side and a chemistry and a symmetry. They have no right to have that — not to anybody’s fault except the calendar. So growing that and be excited about that and trying to polish it up before the playoffs begin is our goal.”
That calendar now reflects that there’s less than a month to go before the postseason. There are 12 games — including the rubber match against the Bucks — left in the regular season. That doesn’t leave much time for Brown to figure out his newest starting unit.
But luckily for Brown, the most promising thing this starting lineup has shown is the willingness to play a selfless brand of basketball. While Embiid may be the “crown jewel,” there are four other players that are supremely gifted offensively.
On Sunday, it was Redick who sparked them early by hitting 7 of 10 shots and going a spotless 4 of 4 from three for 19 points. It was Jimmy Butler who continued his aggressive ways and played closer yet again with 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. It was Embiid being Embiid.
Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris weren’t spectacular, but they were efficient. Simmons was 4 of 8 for eight points, but also added nine rebounds and nine assists. Harris shot just for 4 of 7 for 12, but added seven boards and four dimes.
The beauty of having five guys as immensely talented as what the Sixers have is that you don’t need everybody to go off.
“I think we have so many guys that score the ball in so many different ways that any given night somebody’s going to get hot,” Butler said. “You’re not going to be able to guard everybody. We do a good job of finding guys in spots where they’re comfortable — I think that’s the best part about our offense.
“When the ball is moving around and of course when we’re playing defense, [we’re at our best]. But I think everybody is having fun and when you’re having fun, the basketball game is easy.”
If “Sixers 3.0” keeps this up, the rest of the Eastern Conference won’t be having very much fun.
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