The Philadelphia 76ers secured a playoff spot Sunday by defeating the Bucks 130-125 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Bucks have to do better for the playoffs
Joel Embiid led the 76ers in scoring with 40 points and 15 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler added 27 points and six rebounds.
Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo put down a career-high 52 points, plus 16 rebounds and seven assists. Starters Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe finished with 19, 14 and 12 points, respectively.Joel Embiid (#21) of the 76ers handles the ball against the Bucks defense, March 17, 2019. /VCG Photo
The two teams scored a total of 255 points in the game thanks to their three-point shooting. The 76ers made 15 three-pointers at a rate of 46.9 percent, while the Bucks sank 16 three-pointers at 32 percent. Both sides played the game the way they wanted. Embiid was unstoppable under the rim even in front of Lopez who could match him in size. Subtracting Embiid's 4/13 from long range, he actually made 11 of 18 shots from the field.
Antetokounmpo buried 15 of his 26 shots including 3/8 beyond the arc. The "Greek Freak" also earned 21 free throws and made 19 of them.
The 76ers led in second-chance points (21-11) thanks to better rebounding (54-45) while the Bucks got the upper hand in early offense points (32-13).
Losing by five points to a team that had four All-Star-level players was not a big deal but how they lost it mattered to Milwaukee. First, Philadelphia's starters each played more than 32 minutes, which is the standard amount of playing time during the postseason. By comparison, the Bucks only had four players see that much court time since Malcolm Brogdon had to rest for six to eight weeks to heal a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. He was replaced by Nikola Mirotic, who made only one of seven shots from the field.
Without Brogdon, Milwaukee was without a good weak-side slasher, a reliable outside defender and second ball-handler. Mirotic could not fill the void, making himself a possible weakness for the opponent to exploit. Before Brogdon returns, the Bucks will not be able to put their best five players on the court.
Second, though Embiid was outperformed by Antetokounmpo, he did not have to shoulder all the responsibility as Butler contributed to Philly's point tally. However, Milwaukee did not have such a luxury because they did not have a qualified second-in-command. Middleton did a remarkable job assisting Antetokounmpo in the playoffs last season with his isolation attack but he could not force the Boston Celtics to change their defense. This means that in the playoffs, the Greek Freak will still have to face the brunt of the opponent's defense.
Third, Antetokounmpo already made himself an MVP candidate in the regular season but he has not improved his middle and long-range shooting enough to become a real threat beyond the free throw line. It is almost certain that Milwaukee's opponent in the playoffs will dispatch massive forces under the rim to defend him. How he will respond remains a mystery.
As for the 76ers, the win at the Fiserv Forum was not all they were after. After the game, Embiid did not go to Charlotte with his teammates to prepare for Tuesday's game against the Hornets. Instead, he returned to Philadelphia to get some rest before they face the Celtics on Wednesday, which will be a way more important game considering the 76ers only lead by two wins over Boston in the Eastern Conference.
Other games on Sunday included: (away teams come first)
Los Angeles Lakers 123-124 New York Knicks
Charlotte Hornets 75-93 Miami Heat
Toronto Raptors 107-110 Detroit Pistons
Atlanta Hawks 91-101 Orlando Magic
Chicago Bulls 102-129 Sacramento Kings
Minnesota Timberwolves 102-117 Houston Rockets
Brooklyn Nets 116-119 Los Angeles Clippers