Milwaukee Bucks

Defensive woes continue to plague Sixers as Giannis Antetokounmpo goes off in loss to Bucks

Defensive woes continue to plague Sixers as Giannis Antetokounmpo goes off in loss to Bucks

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What’s your prediction for the fight? 

Pain.

OK, so maybe Brett Brown didn’t go full Clubber Lang last month when discussing the Sixers’ installation of a new defensive scheme, but he did anticipate there would be struggles.

But I’m willing to bet even he didn’t think they would be to this extent.

The Sixers’ defense failed to hold up yet again during Wednesday night’s 123-108 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks (see observations)

After ranking 11th in the NBA by giving up 105.3 points per game last season,  the Sixers wanted to get even better. When defensive-minded Lloyd Pierce took over the head coaching job in Atlanta, the Sixers enlisted Monty Williams to take over those responsibilities and add some different principles that would make the franchise the league’s top squad in that department.

So far the changes have had the opposite impact as the Sixers have allowed opponents to average 116.8 through five games in 2018-19.

“Like I’ve been saying since preseason, I don’t think we’re very good defensively,” Joel Embiid told reporters. “A lot of teams are taking advantage of that. We’ve got to fix it, we’ve got to correct it.”

One glance at the numbers would have you believe the Sixers did a decent job on the defensive side against the Bucks. They limited Milwaukee to 41.0 percent shooting from the field and 30.2 percent from three-point range.

However, it was the game-changing second quarter that turned the tide. The Bucks connected on 15 of 26 shots (57.6), including 8 of 12 three-pointers (66.6 percent). That turned the Sixers’ 12-point lead into a seven-point deficit by halftime.

“I saw a lot of threes,” Brett Brown responded when asked what he witnessed during that stretch of the game. “I saw eight threes. Brook (Lopez) made five threes in a row.”

Lopez (21 points, 5 for 11 on three-pointers) found his game during that second quarter, but it was also the moment Giannis Antetokounmpo started to put his imprint on the matchup. The “Greek Freak” scored 15 of his 32 points in the second quarter as he added 18 boards and 10 assists for a triple-double.

No matter who the Sixers threw at Antetokounmpo, he was able to get to his spots and score the ball. Actually, the Sixers couldn’t even agree on who should be attempting to slow down the All-Star forward on each possession.

“I feel like I should have been on him the whole game,” Simmons said.

What can be agreed on is that the Sixers’ defense is in shambles right now. The team came into training camp with an emphasis on limiting opponents and finding the right combination to take the next step in the playoffs.

At this moment, the Sixers aren’t even playing postseason-caliber defense. More importantly, they’re not playing the type of defense that lives up to the city.

“It’s Philadelphia, it’s the Sixers,” Simmons said. “We play a certain way. We hold ourselves to a high standard.”

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Bucks 123, Sixers 108: Giannis Antetokounmpo shows out

Bucks 123, Sixers 108: Giannis Antetokounmpo shows out

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Another night, another star player the Sixers weren’t able to keep in check.

Despite Ben Simmons' return for the Sixers, they were unable to prevent Giannis Antetokounmpo from notching a triple-double in a 123-108 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Sixers fell to 2-3 on the season with the loss and remained winless on the road.

What’s going on with the rotation? Was Joel Embiid actually outplayed by another center? 

We dive into that and more in our observations.

• I wholeheartedly understand it’s only five games into the new season and no one wants to overreact. However, the distribution of minutes among guards has reached a head-scratching level.

One night after T.J. McConnell played 32 minutes and Markelle Fultz sat the final 10 of regulation and all of overtime, things took another tumble in Milwaukee. 

In this one, McConnell was suspiciously glued to the bench until the 7:02 mark of the third quarter while Fultz played 27 minutes.

All NBA coaches are attempting to get a grasp on their rotations at this point of the season, but Brett Brown might have to nail down a decision on his faster than most to get this thing settled.

• Teams seeking to reach an elite level don’t show this brand of rapid inconsistency.

The Sixers followed up arguably their best defensive quarter of the season in the first with an absolutely dreadful showing in the second. They allowed the Bucks to shoot 57.6 percent from the field in the frame, including a ridiculous 66.6 percent from three-point range.

Center Brook Lopez went off with four triples of his own in the second quarter as the Bucks scored 49 points. They turned a 12-point deficit into a seven-point lead.

We understand the Sixers are still working on implementing a new defensive scheme, but at the end of the day it comes down to simply stopping the man in front of you from putting the ball in the basket.

• Simmons looked solid in his return after missing one game with back tightness. He provided the Sixers with a boost early as the team raced out to a 34-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.

While Simmons turned in his second triple-double of the young season (14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists), a glaring concerned was evident again: free throw shooting.

Simmons was 2 of 6 from the line and is now at 52.6 percent from the stripe in 2018-19. That’s actually down from his 56.0 percent from a season ago.

• Embiid was caught out of his element far too often on Tuesday night as he was forced to chase Brook Lopez (21 points, 5 for 11 from three-point range) around the arc. Not the best situation for the big fella on the second night of a back-to-back set.

Despite not having the best game, Embiid still managed to muscle through for 30 points, 19 boards, six assists and three blocks.

That is one of the true signs of being a great player when you can have an off night and still put up numbers to give your team a chance.

• Unfortunately for the Sixers, any chance they had was snuffed out by Antetokounmpo.

Much like Tuesday night with Blake Griffin, the Sixers had absolutely no answer for the “Greek Freak.” Antetokounmpo turned in absolute dominant stat line of 32 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks and a pair of steals.

The Sixers may not be able to completely lock down opponents’ star players, but they have to at least slow them down.

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Sixers at Bucks: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Bucks: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Updated: 8:49 p.m.

Markelle Fultz will face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night for the second time in his career. The first occasion was a historic one. 

In the regular season finale last year on Apr. 11, Fultz became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, posting 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at 19 years, 317 days old.

The Sixers blew out the Bucks that night, 130-95, winning their 16th straight game and securing the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

One of the more memorable parts of that game was how Fultz’s teammates reacted to his accomplishment. He was mobbed after grabbing the rebound to wrap up his triple-double, and doused in an impromptu celebration in the locker room after the game.

“They poured strawberry milk, chocolate milk, water,” Fultz said. “They drowned me with everything, but it’s all love and appreciation.”

• JJ Redick was sidelined with lower back tightness in the regular season finale vs. the Bucks and Ben Simmons had a rare quiet night, only playing 22 minutes, which led to a lot of time together in the second half for Fultz and T.J. McConnell. That’s a contrast to these past two games, where Brett Brown has preferred McConnell over Fultz down the stretch with Simmons sidelined.

Simmons will return to the Sixers' lineup after missing Tuesday's game against the Pistons with back tightness. 

Though Fultz got the start at the point in Tuesday’s 133-132 overtime loss to Detroit (see observations), scoring 13 points on 6 for 9 shooting, Brown thought McConnell was a better option when the game was on the line.

“We ended up going with T.J. for defensive reasons,” Brown told reporters. “We’ve learned that T.J. defensively has that NBA experience. I think T.J. was 3 for 3 in the fourth period and really had a heck of a fourth period. But defensively especially, and he produced on offense. We ended up going with a more senior type of player and were in a position to walk out of here with a win, and we just came up short at the end.” 

The numbers back up Brown’s assertion that McConnell was the better defensive option Tuesday night. Per NBA.com/Stats, Detroit scored 76 points on 65 possessions when McConnell was on the floor, compared to 60 points on 45 possessions when Fultz was on the court. Pistons players shot 3 for 10 when guarded by McConnell, 9 for 12 when defended by Fultz.

Fultz has clearly struggled defensively, especially when it comes to making the right reads on ball screens. Still, the argument for playing Fultz late in the fourth quarter and overtime is more about the future than the present — if Brown is committed to “growing” Fultz, as he’s said he is, perhaps he’ll start giving Fultz more late-game exposure soon.

• The 3-0 Bucks are one of five undefeated teams left in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.3 points, 16 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, has led Milwaukee in scoring and rebounding every game. Khris Middleton has made a ridiculous 15 of 23 three-pointers. 

Below are the essentials for Wednesday night’s game. 

When: 9:30 p.m.
Where: Fiserv Forum
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (Pregame Live starts at 9 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app 

Roster
Jerryd Bayless, G, 6-3/210, No. 0 
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10, 220, No. 43  
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22 
Robert Covington, F, 6-9/225, No. 33 
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21 
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20 
* Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11 
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5 
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30 
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12 
* Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18 
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31 
JJ Redick, G 6-4/195, No. 17 13
Dario Saric, F, 6-10/250, No. 9
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25 
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8

* Two-way player

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