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Milwaukee vs. Philadelphia: Bucks Buckle Down to Beat Sixers

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The season debut is always hotly anticipated by fans, but the temperature leading up to this one was suspiciously tepid. Many expected the Milwaukee Bucks to struggle, given that they’re missing most of their wing rotation (Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, and Joe Ingles). Moreover, the opponent tonight comes into the year with sky-high expectations; the Philadelphia 76ers have a ton of talent, and they know their moment is now.

That makes it all the sweeter that Milwaukee pulled out a gritty, old school victory in their opening game, on the road, against a vaunted conference rival.

Three Bucks

Brook Lopez was, at least for tonight, very much himself. Splash Mountain let it fly all evening, putting up a whopping 12 three pointers (hitting 4 of them) in order to drag Joel Embiid out of the paint...or punish the Philly defense when he was still ground-bound on the other end of the court, which happened often. But his 17 points were not the hallmark of his game tonight; his trademark defense protecting the rim were a major factor in Milwaukee taking this victory.

The starting guards had a tough offensive outing. With the Bucks’ main wings out of action, head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to start a backcourt of Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, and Jevon Carter. Going small is usually a playoff series adjustment, but tonight it was just the sort of thing that circumstances demanded to happen and it created a number of good looks that just didn’t land. Grayson Allen in particular was active moving without the ball, putting the Philly defense into decision-making mode and forcing their weaker defenders into poorer matchups. Holiday’s shooting splits were...let’s face it, they were ugly (2-for-15, including 0-for-6 on threes), further cementing the opinion that the team needs Khris back for the offense to stabilize.

Giannis was somewhat understated on the stat sheet, but very much controlled the game. In the box score, he logged a modest 21 points (on 16 shots) to go with 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks. He found his teammates in good position for attempts and played his trademark free safety role on defense, coming in just in time to turn away attempts from Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid in spectacular fashion. As we’ve become accustomed to his defensive mastery, tonight’s game is a reminder of just how impactful Giannis is when he’s on the court. For what it’s worth, he led both teams with a +13 on the evening, the only player to mark a positive double-digit plus-minus.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • But seriously, Joel Embiid struggled in this one because of how strong Giannis and Brook Lopez defended the paint. The Sixers may have scored 48 points in the paint (compared to the Bucks’ 30), but Embiid was not responsible for anywhere near the amount of production as he otherwise would have. I mean, look at this:
Joel Embiid’s shot chart
  • The majority of the Sixers’ paint points came by way of difficult floaters, forced by Milwaukee’s tweaked defense hugging up on shooters while still dropping back to protect the rim. Some might call the approach “drop and hug!”

Where previously the drop defense would allow opponents to launch three pointers with reckless abandon, tonight the Sixers managed only a handful (comparatively) of attempts. I went to look up the numbers from last year for comparison’s sake, but the BlogFather himself beat me to the punch...

  • James “Jim” Harden had a solid statistical outing, putting up 31 points, 9 assists, and 8 boards. He was just as pleasant to watch as he usually is (and I actually don’t hate the guy! He does what works, there’s beauty in utility!) so fans were fairly gleeful that his late attempt to tie the game was off the mark.
  • New season, same Giannis:

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