The highly anticipated and nationally televised matchup between the league leading Milwaukee Bucks and East contending Philadelphia 76ers did not disappoint. The Thursday night game had everything from fights to poster blocks. The highlight of the game was the battle between Philadelphia star Joel Embiid and MVP contender Giannis Antetokounmpo, in which Giannis came out on top with the win 128-122 to clinch the best record in the NBA and home court throughout the playoffs.
Philadelphia has been banged up recently, most notably Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. Embiid started in this game after missing the last three games but Butler was unable to go. Brogdon remained the only normal starter out for the Bucks and was again replaced by Sterling Brown. J.J. Redick started the game by shaking off Eric Bledsoe and hitting a corner three. Giannis got his first two free throw attempts to go and Khris Middleton hit his first three to give them both early confidence. Giannis showed his confidence immediately with a three that he air-balled, which the crowd in Philadelphia really enjoyed. As Giannis usually does, he fired back by blocking Embiid in the post and getting back to the line.
Khris got his opportunity to test his confidence on the following offensive possession and hit a pull up three. Next, Giannis hit a deep two from the top of the key to take a 13-5 lead. The 76ers took a timeout and thats when Embiid and Bledsoe got into a minor scuffle that brought a technical for Embiid and Mike Scoot as well as two technicals for Bledsoe which requires his ejection from the remainder of the game. Just two and a half minutes in, Milwaukee was without their starting point guard. George Hill entered the game to take his place.
Tobias Harris ended a 12-0 run by the Bucks with a jumper and was followed up by a three from Redick to shrink the lead to four with eight minutes left in the first quarter. Embiid had a rough start, going 0-6 with three of those from deep. He got his first points at the line midway through the quarter. Both teams were relatively cold from deep in the quarter but they started to fall in the final three minutes. Milwaukee held the lead after the first twelve minutes, 30-26 led by twelve points from Giannis and eleven from Khris.
Pat Connaughton, Tim Frazier, and Ersan Ilyasova all started the second quarter for Milwaukee. The Bucks had already went five deep into the bench in the first quarter alone. The offense remained slow in the first few minutes but the defense didn’t lack as evident by a huge block by Giannis on a dunk attempt from Zhaire Smith. Giannis continued to attack Embiid on the other end and was the only real consistent source of points. The rest of the Bucks were struggling to make anything, whether it be a three or a layup. Luckily, Philadelphia hadn’t figured out their offense either and the low scoring affair continued. At the first TV timeout of the second quarter, Milwaukee held a 38-32 lead.
Both squads looked more confident on offense out of the timeout and the 76ers made it a two point game halfway through the second period. George Hill became a factor and kept some distance with a three and floater in the lane. Then Connaughton started to become a little too involved in the game when he missed a couple of threes in a row and fouled Redick who is nearly automatic from the line. The lead shrunk to a single point with three minutes left in the half. Redick tied it with a three shortly after and an Embiid three put them up for the first time since early in the first quarter. Philadelphia took the lead into the locker room, up 58-56. Giannis led all scorers with 21 followed by Redick with 16. The most notable stat of the first half was the disparity in three point shooting. The Bucks shot just 29% while the 76ers shot 56% from deep.
J.J. Redick hit a jumper on the first possession of the second half and was answered by a Giannis jumper. On the next trip down the court, Giannis met Embiid at the summit of his dunk attempt and blocked him which put Embiid on his already injured back. He remained in the game despite the unimportance of this particular matchup. Philadelphia built an early seven point lead and Coach Bud called a timeout to regroup the lacking defense. Giannis hit another jumper out of the timeout and he was at 28 points just three minutes into the second half.
The next Milwaukee player to step into the category of “doing too much” was Hill. He became a liability on defense and was a little too aggressive on offense. It was times like this when fans really missed Eric Bledsoe. Giannis checked out and Middleton assumed the primary scorer role even though he hadn’t hit a shot since the first quarter. He got his first jumper to go which is always a good confidence boost for Khris. Giannis went back in shortly after when Embiid checked back in despite Brook Lopez playing man on him on the defensive side. Still, Milwaukee was making no progress on the lead and after Giannis air-balled a three, Coach Bud took a timeout with four minutes left in the third.
The timeout proved to be a game changer for Milwaukee. They came out on a 10-2 run in the next two minutes to bring themselves within one before Mike Scott hit a three. Giannis basically did it all himself on the offensive side. When he checked out, Khris again assumed the primary scorer role and only hit one of his four attempts his in the closing minutes of the third. That was the story of the night for every Buck player except Giannis. They took an 86-82 deficit into the final period. Milwaukee remained just 29% from deep.
Philadelphia scored on their first two possessions of the final quarter, including basket interference on Khris. The Bucks offense continued to look sloppy on many of the possessions. It was mostly on the replacements for Bledsoe. Hill, Brown, Frazier, and Connaughton were all having below average performances from start to finish in this game and that clearly took a toll on both ends of the court. Every time Milwaukee cut the deficit to three, Philadelphia would come back with their own shot on the following possession. Giannis was doing everything he could, including hitting threes. With eight minutes left in the game, the 76ers held a four point lead.
Embiid was the only real offensive threat Philadelphia had. After a rocky first two and a half quarters, he got his rhythm back and was posting up with great success. Lopez got his first three pointer of the game to go to cut the lead to one. If that type of open shot had been hit all game, Milwaukee would most likely have a sizable lead. Instead, they left Giannis to lift the whole team up for a majority of the game. Giannis tied it up on a free throw with six minutes remaining. A minute later, the tie stood going into a timeout from Philadelphia. With five minutes to go, each team had 109 on the board.
Redick remained red hot as he had been the entire game. Milwaukee had yet to find a guard who could slow him down, something Bledsoe is known to excel at. Another aspect that killed the Bucks was their lack of perimeter defense that led to a perfect 6/6 start to the quarter from Philadelphia. All season they’ve been one of the worst teams at contesting opponent threes and it caught up to them for the entirety of this game. The final TV timeout was taken with three minutes left, Milwaukee down three with a Giannis free throw after the break.
Giannis hit his free throw but Connaughton lost Scott on the other end who hit yet another three. A couple of possessions later, Hill finally stepped up and hit a three to reduce the gap to a single point. Any time someone other than Giannis got a shot to go, the Bucks made an actual threat to the 76ers lead. Hill tied it up with a minute and a half left on a running floater over Redick. After Redick shot the first missed three of the quarter for Philadelphia, Giannis found Hill on the fastbreak for a wide open layup and the Bucks had a two point lead with a minute to go, their first lead of the second half.
The Bucks extended their lead to four on a deflected pass that lead to a transition reverse layup from Brown. Another miss from the 76ers on the next possession forced them to start fouling for the last 30 seconds. Fans began to head for the exits with their team down six. Milwaukee closed it out and won with a final score of 128-122 behind a 46 point final quarter.
Giannis was a monster with a line of 45/13/6/5 blocks.
Khris had 22/3/4.
Hill had 20/5/5.
As a team, Milwaukee shot just 35% from deep compared to Philadelphia’s 51%.
While this game wasn’t going to have much of an effect on the overall standings for either team, it still clearly meant something to the players. Knowing they are potential playoff opponents in a later round and knowing that the season series was tied at 1-1, they brought the fire from the beginning. The intensity peaked just two minutes into the game with the ejection of Bledsoe, who clearly could’ve been a big help in this contest. The biggest story of the game was the individual battle between Giannis and Embiid. Giannis blocked a total of four shots put up by Embiid, the most times Embiid has ever been blocked by a single player in one game. Both teams are currently not at full health and if a matchup occurred in a few weeks, one could assume that Butler will be back and Milwaukee will have Bledsoe, Brogdon, Mirotic, and Snell available. This win for the Bucks officially clinched the top seed in the NBA this season, who now sit at 59-20 with three games remaining, all at Fiserv Forum.
Milwaukee will host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday afternoon for a 4:30 p.m. tip. With nothing left to play for, expect the Bucks to rest a few of their key players.