I know, I know, you feel like you may have read something akin to this column before, but I’m here to pound the point home because the fact remains, this Milwaukee Bucks - Philadelphia 76ers game on Saturday is once again, important. In his excellent weekly power rankings, John Schuhmann slams home the emphasis emphatically, illustrating how the Bucks still have more games against the upper echelon of the East post-ASB (10) than before (9). That includes two against Philly, this one and a road contest out at Wells Fargo Arena on April 7. Let’s dive into why this contest stands out:
It’s an Early Rubber Match
After Philadelphia spanked the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day, Milwaukee untangled itself from that mistletoe mishap to mangle the 76ers at Fiserv Forum with a 112-101 win. It was the Bucks’ suffocating defense that eradicated any hope Philly had of prevailing, with the Sixers shooting just 37.4% overall. While they still chucked it from deep with aplomb 19-45 (42.2%), they were a ghastly 18-54 (33%) from inside the arc. Given they’re a team comprised of Al Horford (midrange/former post artist), Joel Embiid (paint pulverizer) and Ben Simmons (rim rattler), that’s a pretty incredible feat. For the season, they’re at 52.7% overall from 2-point land, just outside the top-ten in the league.
With the ledger reading 1-1 at this point, there’s every reason for both of these teams to want to take the early-season upper hand in this budding rivalry. Milwaukee was held well below its own offensive potential by the Sixers as well despite prevailing, by no fault of Giannis Antetokounmpo though, who went 13-25 from the field. On top of that, a victory would plunge Philly even deeper into the Eastern Conference standings, while continuing their string of utter ineptitude on the road, where they’re just 9-19 on the season.
Giannis vs. Embiid Part III
Another rubber match of sorts, Joel Embiid absolutely bested Giannis in the confines of a friendly Philly crowd hooting and hollering with each time Embiid suffocated Giannis at the rim. The script flipped in round two, when Embiid finished with one of the least efficient games of his career at just 6-26. Half of those made field goals were triples too. Conversely, Giannis pummeled the Sixers interior anytime he had a mismatch (i.e. anyone but Embiid) and Al Horford looked like if any chops were left from Game One of last year’s playoff series, they’d certainly been picked clean by Giannis across the subsequent four contests.
With Ben Simmons facing up Khris Middleton, that left Embiid as the lone guy who can “stop” Giannis, but he hardly stood in his way en route to 36 points, 20 rebounds and six assists. Just as important were Giannis’ mere three turnovers and impressive 9-12 from the free throw line. Early on, it looked like the game may go according to the same X-mas day script as Giannis continued to shank his shot from three while Philly gave him room to fire away. It didn’t matter; his confidence didn’t wane and he went inside no matter what. Both he and Embiid had superstar-level 40% usage rates in game two. One had it going, the other fumbled. Same thing happened in game one. I’d expect a similar cause-and-effect result in this one.
A Tale of 3-Points
In each contest thus far, the 76ers have punched above their weight from beyond the arc. Combined, they are 40-89 from deep, 44.9%, and significantly better than their season average (36.2%). That’s just percentage points behind the Bucks in the middle of the league’s conversion rate. More important though is the volume of triples the Sixers have launched. Milwaukee allows the most opponent threes in the league (38.8), but the Sixers also typically take just 31 per game. To this point, they have gladly taken the deep triples Milwaukee’s defense provides, and to this point, that’s been a smart strategy! They’ve hit an impressive percentage of them.
On the flip side, the Bucks have hit around their season average, 35.7%, between both games. Neither felt like an outlier either way. The one outlier has been Giannis, who continues to be in his own head from deep against the Sixers. He is just 1-14 from beyond the arc. We will see if he maintains the confidence to shoot in this one, because Philly will be providing the cushion all game. The last contest’s outcome still went Milwaukee’s way despite Philly’s hot outside shooting, but they are likely in for some sort of regression to the mean.
There’s a very real possibility that if this Sixers team implodes in the Playoffs, they won’t be back in this same iteration, and certainly not with this coaching staff. If you want to see them as currently constituted, this could be your last chance in Milwaukee. Grab your popcorn folks, you’ll want it with your tickets to this show. You can get your tickets through this StubHub link.
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