Sixers stun Bucks, ending Milwaukee’s 16-game win streak

Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden (1) dribbles against Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

The Philadelphia 76ers continued their five-game road trip Saturday night with a primetime matchup against the top team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks. In what was perhaps the most impressive win of the season, the Sixers managed to rise up and seal the win.

Odds not in Philly’s favor

The Philadelphia 76ers were underdogs in this game for a few reasons. Milwaukee was looking to extend a 16-game win streak, and the Sixers had lost three of their last four games. After losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, how would the Sixers do against the hottest team in the NBA? 

Joel Embiid was determined to get his team off to a good start. He scored from inside and outside, putting pressure on Milwaukee’s defense. Embiid also had the task of guarding Brook Lopez early, which proved to be a challenge.

Lopez, the Bucks’ center, did more damage from midrange early on versus Philly. He put the ball on the floor on multiple plays and made the Sixers pay. He also blocked Embiid and made baskets in the paint hard to come by for the rest of the 76ers.

Surprisingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo was not as much of a factor until the second half. Reserve forward Bobby Portis contributed off the bench for the Bucks, along with Grayson Allen, who scorched Philly from beyond the arc on the night. Allen went six-for-eight from the 3-point line during the game. 

Milwaukee’s tenacious defense thwarted much of what the Sixers wanted to do for almost the entire game. James Harden fought hard to make baskets, and he did so in fantastic fashion. Harden finished with 38 points and 10 assists to put the Sixers in position to come back after Milwaukee looked to seal away the game.

Tyrese Maxey kept Philly in the game with his free throws in the first half, but then in the second half, he stepped up his offensive game and scored in a number of ways, including long-range, mid-range, and layups. Maxey was not the only other Sixer to provide a scoring boost.

Much needed help for the Sixers

Georges Niang, who averaged only 4.6 points in the last five games, finally found his shot against the Bucks. He nailed five-for-six 3-pointers on the night, giving Philly a huge spark off the bench. Another spark came from Jalen McDaniels.

The trade-deadline acquisition from Charlotte gave some nice minutes on defense for the Sixers and hit some key baskets to help close the gap. A fierce put-back dunk off an offensive rebound contributed to a 14-2 run in the final quarter for the 76ers.

As Giannis Antetokounmpo went into bully-ball mode, the Bucks climbed on his back. The former MVP drove the lane on a mission, and he visited the foul line often in the last period, converting 16-of-18 free throws. 

In crunch time, Jrue Holiday, who had a stellar game with 26 points and 13 assists, hit an open jumper to secure Milwaukee’s lead. That is when James Harden turned into Houston Harden

The Sixers’ point guard penetrated the paint and scored on multiple plays, drawing fouls in the process. He hit a long-range 3-pointer that gave Philly hope. On the subsequent play, Joel Embiid hit a long bomb to take their first lead since the second quarter, 127-125. 

As the Bucks scrambled to regain the lead, Antetokounmpo took matters into his own hands, driving on Embiid. Instead of making contact and biting on pump fakes, Embiid stayed disciplined and forced Antetokounmpo into a travel violation. At that point, foul line visitation hours were open for the Sixers as Milwaukee tried to stop the clock and climb back into the game.

The big picture

Although the Bucks outrebounded the Sixers (43-32), Philly took better care of the basketball. They only turned the ball over six times. Milwaukee also had more assists (30) than the Sixers (24), but the game was ultimately won at the foul line. The Sixers visited the charity stripe nine more times than their opponent, shooting almost 84 percent. 

The largest lead for Milwaukee was 18 points, and there were nine lead changes on the night.

Next up? The Sixers play the Indiana Pacers on Monday at 7 PM EST on NBC Sports Philly.