Eric Bledsoe

Bucks 128, Sixers 122: In Joel Embiid's return, Sixers fail to close out NBA-best Bucks

Bucks 128, Sixers 122: In Joel Embiid's return, Sixers fail to close out NBA-best Bucks

BOX SCORE

The return of Joel Embiid wasn't quite enough.

The Sixers couldn't close out the NBA-best Bucks, surrendering 46 fourth-quarter points in a 128-122 loss at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night.

The Sixers blew a two-point lead with 1:38 left in the game. The loss drops them to 49-30 on the season.

Jimmy Butler (back tightness) and James Ennis (right quad contusion) were both out. Ennis will remain out and be reevaluated in two weeks.

Here are observations from the game:

• The fun started less than three minutes into the game. Embiid and Eric Bledsoe were fighting for position on a shot. After it went in, Bledsoe gave Embiid an extra shove. Embiid took exception and tossed the ball at Bledsoe. Bledsoe then did his best impression of Bryce Harper gunning down a runner at the plate, firing the ball back at Embiid. Mike Scott then tossed the ball back at Bledsoe and approached the Bucks’ guard, which caused a scrum.

It was something.

After the dust settled, Embiid and Scott were each hit with a technical while Bledsoe received two and was tossed from the game. It might’ve been excessive to eject Bledose, but it was a break for the Sixers.

• Embiid hadn’t played in a week and it showed early on. The All-Star center was rusty and settling for too many jumpers, taking six threes in the first half. The crowd actually groaned when he pump faked from three after missing his last two attempts.

But my goodness, did he turn it on when the team needed him.

Defensively, it’s amazing what a difference Embiid — and a little effort — can make. Brett Brown again used Embiid on MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, pouring in 45 points. Antetokounmpo did a lot of his damage at the foul line, going 16 of 21.

It just looks like defending him this way throws off the rest of Milwaukee’s offense. The Bucks tried to run some pick-and-roll — because why wouldn't you after what you saw last night in Atlanta — with Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, but Ben Simmons did an excellent job fighting through screens and staying with Middleton.

The defensive effort until late in the fourth was the best we've seen from this team since the last game Embiid played. With that said, Antetokounmpo showed why he's an MVP candidate, coming up with a huge block on Embiid down the stretch.

Embiid did come down funny and favored his ankle toward the end of the first half and went to the locker room with under two minutes to play. He appeared no worse for wear in the second half — especially in the fourth quarter. He had his second career triple-double with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. You can try to tell me this dude isn't an MVP candidate, but my eyes tell me differently.

• JJ Redick had a fun battle going on with Pat Connaughton. The Bucks’ guard has serious sandpaper to his game and was in Redick’s shorts every chance he got. It seemed to get a rise out of Redick, who hit 4 of 5 from three in the first half. He also beat George Hill on two backdoor cuts early in the second half. He finished with 29 points on 5 of 9 from three and 10 of 15 overall.

Watching Redick up close, you get such an appreciation for what he does on a nightly basis. He runs a marathon every night and it got a little nasty out there Thursday. But you get the feeling that’s the way Redick likes it.

• I liked what I saw out of the pick-and-roll with Embiid and Tobias Harris. It’s puzzling that the Sixers don't run more of it. It got Harris, who actually ran the point at times for the third straight game, a bunch of decent looks. There's little downside in getting two of your most offensively gifted players in actions together. Harris shot just 6 of 15 for 13 points.

• Scott got the start in place of Butler and came up huge. He'd been in a bit of a shooting slump, going 0 for 8 in the last two games and shooting below 30 percent from three over his last 13 games. He was unconscious Thursday, hitting 6 of 8, and was also solid defensively on the Bucks' secondary options.

• If I had told you opening night that Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton would be sharing the floor together for Game 79 against the team with the best record in the NBA, you would’ve called me crazy. But here we are. What a time to be alive.

Not only did the rookies get run, but they looked like useful NBA players at times. On his first touch at the Wells Fargo Center, Smith took a three with no hesitation and nailed it. You can just see the otherworldly athleticism Smith possesses. He’s so explosive and gets off the ground so quickly. 

On a drive baseline, Smith tried to dunk on Antetokounmpo, but was turned away. But as Antetokounmpo took the ball the other way, Milton got back in transition and tied up the All-Star for a jump ball. Credit to Smith, he went right back at Antetokounmpo a couple possessions later to no avail. The kid is definitely fearless.

At times, the pair looked like chickens with their heads cut off, but they played their tails off. Smith made a great defensive play on a steal in the fourth quarter and then blew a wide-open finish on the other end. Definitely an ill-timed rookie moment.

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Best of NBA: Bucks snap 4-game skid in Eric Bledsoe's debut

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Best of NBA: Bucks snap 4-game skid in Eric Bledsoe's debut

SAN ANTONIO -- Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped a four-game skid with a 94-87 victory over San Antonio on Friday night in Eric Bledsoe's debut with the Bucks.

Bledsoe started in his first game with Milwaukee three days after being acquired in a trade with Phoenix. Bledsoe made his first attempt, a runner from 13 feet, and he finished with 13 points and seven assists on 6-for-15 shooting.

The Bucks won for the first time in November and snapped the Spurs' three-game winning streak.

Antetokounmpo and San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge played to an early stalemate in a battle of the teams' star big men.

Aldridge muscled his way to the basket and scored 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Antetokounmpo elevated to the rim for a series of layups and dunks in shooting 12-for-24.

The Bucks' length and quickness, especially Antetokounmpo's, created havoc for the Spurs. San Antonio had 18 turnovers, two short of its season worst (see full recap).

Celtics overcome Irving injury for 11th straight win
BOSTON -- Jayson Tatum had 16 points, Shane Larkin added 16 off the bench and the Boston Celtics overcame an injury to Kyrie Irving and a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Charlotte Hornets 90-87 on Friday night.

Terry Rozier finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, playing an increased role after Irving left the game in the first quarter after taking an elbow to the face. Jaylen Brown added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Celtics extended their win streak to 11 games. Charlotte has lost four straight.

Celtics center Aron Baynes' elbow inadvertently struck Irving when Baynes was landing after a rebound attempt. Irving fell to the floor and was bleeding from the nose as he was escorted back to the locker room. Irving was ruled out for the rest of the game while he was monitored for possible concussion symptoms.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 20 points and 11 assists.

Celtics trailed by 12 after three quarters, but opened the fourth on a 16-3 run and took the lead with 4:05 to play on a basket by Brown (see full recap).

George’s 42 points help Thunder snap skid
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Paul George scored 42 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Clippers 120-111 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

It was George's highest points total since joining the Thunder in an offseason trade. He made 13 of 22 shots and had nine rebounds and seven assists.

Russell Westbrook had 22 points and eight assists and Carmelo Anthony and Alex Abrines each scored 14 points in the Thunder's highest-scoring game of the season.

Lou Williams scored 35 points for the Clippers, and Blake Griffin had 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting. Los Angeles has lost four straight.

The Thunder led 63-55 at halftime behind 21 points by George and 17 by Westbrook. The Clippers shot 54 percent before the break, but they turned it over 11 times and were outscored 17-12 at the free throw line.

The Thunder continued their surge early in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Anthony pushed Oklahoma City ahead by 15. The Thunder increased their lead to 20 before the Clippers chipped away late in the quarter to cut their deficit to 94-86 at the end of the period. A 3-pointer by Austin Rivers tied it at 105 midway through the fourth.

The Thunder held the Clippers to one field goal in the final three minutes (see full recap).