Shorthanded Sixers Can’t Quite Upset Defending Champion Bucks

NBA: APR 09 76ers at Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: v09 dunks the ball against New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

With the ever-growing injury report forcing Doc Rivers to make some adjustments to his rotation, the Sixers came out in a new-look lineup in this matchup with the defending NBA champions. Shortly before the game, Seth Curry was ruled out with a foot contusion, so Doc Rivers elected to pull Paul Reed out of the mud and place him back in the starting lineup.

Despite Danny Green returning from injury last game and being listed as healthy for this matchup, Rivers elected to leave red-hot Furkan Korkmaz in the lineup and for Green to come off the bench for his first time as a 76er.

The Bucks also did not come into this game with a clean bill of health as Khris Middleton, Brooke Lopez, and Donte DiVincenzo each also missed the matchup.

First Half

The Sixers started the game hot. Tyrese Maxey stepped into the spotlight and added 17 first-quarter points on 7-9 from the field and 3-4 from beyond the three-point arc. The Sixers’ offense looked fluent and moved the ball well, with them committing just two turnovers in the quarter. Ultimately the Sixers were able to cruise to a 39-30 lead after the first quarter.

It was Georges Niang who got hot next for the Sixers as he came off the bench to knock down four straight three-pointers. Niang showed his grit and also earned himself a technical early in the second quarter. Fan-favorite Bball Paul, who was the next spark for the team and left his infectious effort all out on the floor. He impressed as a defender on the two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and came away with a statement block on the superstar.

The shots stopped falling late in the second quarter, which allowed the Bucks to climb back into the game. Despite the 39 point outpouring in the first quarter, the Sixers added just 19 in the second. Grayson Allen knocked down three three-pointers, and Giannis added 12 points to give the Bucks a 61-58 lead at halftime.

Second Half

The Bucks came out strong to start the half forcing Doc Rivers to use a timeout under a minute in. Extended minutes with Georges Niang as the primary defender on Giannis allowed the 7-footer to get going. Momentum swung back and forth throughout the third quarter, with Furkan Korkmaz and Danny Green managing to find their strokes. It took a last-second tip-in from Andre Drummond after a Tyrese Maxey miss to lead the Sixers to a 93-91 lead heading into the fourth.

The Sixers continued to scratch and claw their way through the game, with Georges Niang making sure the crowd was still involved. The Sixers’ array of three-point shooting fell short at the wrong time, and the team lacked the scoring power to push them to the finish. 31 points from Giannis led the Bucks to a 118-109 victory despite the terrific effort from the shorthanded Sixers.

Main Takeaways

Don’t Discount Tyrese Maxey’s Development

Tyrese Maxey was thrown into absolutely massive shoes heading into the season. The 21-year-old guard has been expected to serve as the primary playmaker and one of the main offense options in just his second season as a pro. Despite the lofty expectations, Maxey has been extremely impressive early on in the season. The growth in decision-making with the ball is especially noteworthy and has been put on full display in recent games.

With so many scoring options out tonight, Maxey sought out his own shot more and effectively picked up the scoring slack. The Kentucky product ended with 31 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in tonight’s game. It is clear how much more confident he has grown in his jump shot from last year, and he showed this tonight. There is still plenty of room for growth still to occur with Maxey, but his work ethic, desire, and fearlessness make him impossible to bet against. Maxey has never been afraid to step into the spotlight and tonight was further evidence of this.

Bball Paul Deserves Minutes

Paul Reed is by no means a finished product as an NBA player. He is absolute madness just about every second he is on the court, but there is value in what he adds to the team. Bball Paul impressed with his defense on Giannis, which is an extremely tough assignment for any NBA player. The fluent hips and quick feet made an impact on the superstar, and Reed is the quickest and most “small-ball friendly” player of any of the Sixers big man options.

Regardless of the growing pains that come with it, investing developmental minutes in Reed on a nightly basis will pay off in the long run. The former G-League MVP ended with 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in 24 minutes of play tonight. His defense on Giannis changed the game, and the gap in defensive ability between Reed and Georges Niang was incredibly noticeable. It was nice to see Bball Paul get some more minutes following the 4-minute performance last night, and he made a strong statement why he deserves to keep those.

This Team is Awesome

Regardless of who the opponent is and what players are available to play, this team shows up to compete every single night. This has become a theme through these past few games and continues to prove itself true. Each member of this Sixers roster plays with a chip on their shoulder and plays their heart out. There were several moments where it felt as if the Bucks took total control of the game, but the Sixers continually found a way to battle back.

While moral victories don’t mean anything in the standings, the Sixers certainly earned one tonight. Despite taking losses on back-to-back nights, the shorthanded Sixers have never shown signs of backing down. There are still a few games to play before the Sixers begin to get players back, but if this level of effort continues, there have to be a few wins on the way.