The Milwaukee Bucks entered their matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers needing a win to help solidify a playoff berth. The Chicago Bulls held up their end of the bargain and lost to the Brooklyn Nets, and the Bucks (almost begrudgingly) confirmed their postseason reservations with a 90-82 win against Philly. Not only that, but Milwaukee has matched its season win total from two years ago, and still has a chance to end the year above .500 for the first time since the Fear The Dear run in 2009.
Giannis Antetokoumpo led the way (as usual) with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, and that statline still seemed underwhelming (which means we’re spoiled). Greg Monroe chipped in 17 points off the bench, and Matthew Dellavedova shook off a bad first half to finish with 14 points of his own.
Milwaukee and Philadelphia both had rough outings, as they shot a combined 62/156 (0.397) from the floor, including 14/58 (0.241) from behind the arc. Both teams also struggled maintaining possession, with assist/TO ratios of 1.2 (for the Bucks) and 1.35 (for the Sixers). But the only number that matters is the one that goes in the ‘W’ column, right?
With only two games left in the season, the Bucks’ attention turns to playoff seeding. With pending showdowns against Charlotte and Boston, Milwaukee is currently 0.5 games behind Atlanta (who has a brutal schedule) for the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, and if the standings were frozen today would play the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
Philadelphia was missing a number of important contributors, but never gave any indication that they would avoid playing the game. They came out energetic (but wild, with 7 first quarter turnovers) and managed to put Milwaukee on the defensive. A perfect example was early in the second quarter, when back-to-back Greg Monroe turnovers resulted in a three-pointer and breakaway dunk for Richaun Holmes.
As has been the case during their three-game losing streak, the Bucks barely exhibited the sort of sense of urgency you’d expect when trying to win a freaking basketball game, much less one that has important playoff implications. Against an opponent whose rotation of available players would embolden any D-League squad, Milwaukee struggled mightily. Entry passes were picked off and taken all the way for layups. Philly players would find themselves in rebounding position without even token resistance. Bucks on the bench demonstrated more off-ball movement than those on the court.
Coming out of halftime with a 6-point deficit, Milwaukee showed some signs of giving a damn. Giannis drew a charge on defense and an (unconverted) and-one on offense. Thon Maker forced his man over the baseline for a turnover that eventually led to a pair of Middleton free throws. A Delly three and a Giannis layup helped the Bucks regain some momentum to the tune of a 53-52 lead.
Later in the third quarter, Giannis turned up the intensity and helped the Bucks start to build a cushion. Despite some of his ill-advised drives to the basket, he found teammates for good shots and protected the rim on the other end. He even pulled off a “one-man full court press” by stealing the ball and converting the layup. His energy and effort seemed to rub off on his teammates, and the Bucks were able to end the quarter with a 67-60 advantage.
As the fourth quarter proceeded, the Bucks started to pull away. Philadelphia’s relative lack of talent resulted in more missed shots and mistimed passes, and Milwaukee was able to slowly turn that advantage into a double-digit lead. Richaun Holmes missed an easy dunk that seemed to deflate the Sixers with less than five minutes remaining, and while the game grew closer in the final minutes, the final buzzer rang out and welcomed the Bucks back to the playoffs.
Thoughts & Tidbits
- This game had been branded as a late-season matchup of ROY candidates; unfortunately, Malcolm Brogdon was unavailable to defend his claim to the award from Dario Saric, who is pretty good.
- Speaking of Saric, he’s known as “The Homie,” which is a great nickname but inappropriate for anybody with that hair situation. Seriously, that mustache looks like some toothbrush bristles super-glued underneath his nose, and that haircut is as if Ersan Ilyasova went to his barber and said, “Give me the Steve Nash.”
- Greg Monroe earned himself a few nifty scores on the block, but continues to struggle with turnovers. It almost looks like his hands are moving too fast when he tries to corral the ball.
- In the second quarter, Gary Payton II took a handoff from Spencer Hawes and attempted a dunk on Saric that was so preposterous, I had to double-check to make sure it wasn’t Giannis. He got called for a charge and on the broadcast, his face looked like he knew that it was a silly decision to take off where he did.
- It would’ve been really cool, though.
- Late in the first half, Giannis and Spencer Hawes exhibited some solid chemistry, with Giannis using his size advantage to create passing lanes for Ol’ Top Knot on consecutive possessions. In other news, I really want “Ol’ Top Knot” to be a moniker for Hawes.
- Khris Middleton continues to struggle. Many of his midrange misses caromed off the back of the iron, which lends credence to the theory that his legs have been getting tired (which is understandable) and he’s overcompensating with his arms on his jumper. Still, it’s unfortunate timing after The Ringer put out such a glowing review of Khris’ return from injury.
- That said, Middleton’s issues were nothing compared to Delly tonight. Matthew Dellavedova was awful during this game, going 0-7 (on open looks) from the field until finally draining a pair of threes in the third quarter.
- I’m a lukewarm supporter of “Trust the process,” but I struggle to envision what Philly’s endgame is with their current cast of prospects. Joel Embiid is a remarkable player who may or may not stay healthy, but his talent makes the risk worthwhile. Outside of The Process himself, though, the Sixers have a bunch of bigs who need the ball to be effective (Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and the newly-minted 7-footer Ben Simmons.) Sooner or later, they’re going to need some guards...but they have a good chance of drafting one this summer.
- Giannis has been showing some Corey Maggette-esque tunnel vision lately, recognizing that the defense is sagging off of him to protect the paint, and diving in head-first anyway. It’s been getting him to the line, but has also resulted in a number of turnovers that are objectively worse than a missed 16-footer.
- I’m no connoisseur of arena entertainment, but goodness gracious are the Milwaukee Rim Rockers light years ahead of the Sixers Dunk Squad. There’s no excitement in what they put into their trampoline-assisted exploits, no creativity, and certainly no enjoyment from me.
- Philadelphia is a bad team, but a well-coached one. Even in the final two minutes of a game that had no impact on their season, the Sixers were swarming the ball, double-teaming, and getting deflections in their pursuit of spoiling Milwaukee’s playoff goals.
- Guys, the Bucks are in the playoffs! Are you as excited as Matt Moore is?!
The Milwaukee Bucks have clinched a playoff berth.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 9, 2017
The Bucks return to Milwaukee for their final home game on Monday night, where they will take on the Charlotte Hornets for Fan Appreciation Night. Charlotte has lost their last three and is at the very bottom of the playoff picture, but it will be interesting to see how Jason Kidd decides to staff his team with the playoff picture nearing its final form.