Despite another strong shorthanded effort, the Sixers’ back-to-back ended with nothing more than moral victories.
They fell to the Bucks on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, 118-109, dropping to 8-4 on the season.
Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 20 rebounds, while Shake Milton gave the Sixers 20 points and six assists.
Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Seth Curry missed Tuesday’s game due to a left foot contusion. Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Donte DiVincenzo were out with injuries.
Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame that Harris is “doing a lot better” and should be back “sooner rather than later.”
The Sixers will finish their three-game homestand Thursday against the Raptors. Here are observations on their loss to the Bucks:
Maxey’s sensational start
Maxey conceded five early points to former teammate George Hill but didn’t take long to exceed that total on the other end.
He exploded for 17 in the first quarter on 7-for-9 shooting, knocking down confident jumpers, driving layups and a floater. The Sixers need players to seek their own shots without Embiid and Harris. Even with so many minutes under his belt in recent days, Maxey wasn’t hesitant about embracing that job.
Perhaps there’s something about these shorthanded situations that brings the best out of Maxey, who scored 39 points for the seven-man Sixers last season against the Nuggets.
There’s no concern at all about deferring to stars, spreading the ball around evenly or playing like a “true point guard.” Just trust his talent and try to make good things happen despite the manpower disadvantage. If he can carry a bit of that mindset over when the team is at full strength, that would be great for the Sixers.
“Of course tonight I had to be more aggressive than usual," he said after the game. “I don’t think tonight was really a confidence-builder for me. I think my confidence comes from the work in the gym, honestly. I feel pretty confident in my shot because I put the time in. Even when it’s not falling or even when they’re going under, I feel like I’m going to make the shot because of the work that I put in.”
Maxey cooled off after the first, and the jumper-dependent Sixers had a difficult time stringing together baskets as a whole in the middle portion of the game.
Never shy about shooting, Furkan Korkmaz went 2 for 18 from the floor (1 for 12 from three-point range). His highs are high, and the lows can sometimes be extreme as well.
As for Maxey, scoring wasn't the only quality he brought to the table Tuesday. He made an incredible high-flying, two-handed block on Pat Connaughton in the third quarter. No Sixers regular is at 100 percent, but Maxey did a convincing impression of a well-rested player.
B-Ball Paul vs. The Greek Freak
Paul Reed, the G League MVP last season as a rookie, matched up with a two-time NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo. He was joined by Maxey, Milton, Korkmaz and Andre Drummond in the Sixers’ starting lineup as Danny Green came off the bench in his second game back following a three-game absence with left hamstring tightness.
Offensively, Reed began brilliantly. His first quarter included a mid-range jumper, a soaring put-back dunk and a layup after he pump faked a corner three.
The other end of the floor was challenging, but Reed was determined to prevent Antetokounmpo from easy offense. He did foul him on a second-quarter fadeaway jumper — a call he strongly objected to — but otherwise avoided high-risk gambles or overzealous contact rather well. Against Antetokounmpo, that's generally the best one can do. He's a special player, and Reed should learn from what worked (and what didn't) on him.
“I thought overall, good," Rivers said of Reed's defense. “I thought in the second half he kept playing him on the side. And playing Giannis on the side is like water — he just went through him. And that’s what we were talking about. He kept doing it. And he didn’t do that as much in the first half.
“You’ve got to play Giannis square, make him go through your chest. If he gets you on the side, it’s over, and Giannis seized the moment and did that a bunch in the second half.”
In 23 minutes, Reed finished with six points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Sticking with eight
While Rivers promised a 10-man rotation after Monday’s loss to the Knicks, he ultimately used eight, not employing rookies Jaden Springer and Aaron Henry against the defending champions.
Big man Charles Bassey, the Sixers’ other active rookie, checked in for Drummond and played four minutes at the beginning of the second quarter. He pulled off an impressive weak-side block on Antetokounmpo during that stretch, a play which led to a Milton three-pointer that gave the Sixers a 48-35 lead.
Following Drummond’s re-entry, things went downhill for the Sixers. He missed two inside shots and committed a poor turnover during a 10-0 Milwaukee run. Despite a brief respite highlighted by a Reed block on Antetokounmpo, the Bucks firmly regained momentum heading into halftime and held a 61-58 edge at the break.
Especially in this spot — on a depleted team with small guards — Drummond looks set to at least reach the “teens” in rebounds every game. He carves out space, anticipates sharply and is a sure bet to snatch the ball whenever it’s in his vicinity. Other elements of his game are not nearly as reliable, but he’s never lost his exceptional rebounding skills.
Georges Niang was fantastic as a shooter, knocking down his first five three-pointers and scoring 21 points, but far less successful when faced with the impossible task of defending Antetokounmpo. Niang battles and clearly hates getting picked on but few players are well equipped to guard Antetokounmpo, who hit another gear in the third quarter.
The Sixers worked to limit Antetokounmpo's scoring opportunities down the stretch, but he was content to kick the ball out to the open man. A late Grayson Allen corner three from an Antetokounmpo pass just about sealed the win for Milwaukee.