Sixers fight but ultimately falter against Bucks in Doc Rivers’ return

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed (44) goes up for a shot against Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, left, and Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

After a thrilling win Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Philadelphia 76ers welcomed in the Milwaukee Bucks in the final game of their four-game homestand. Sunday afternoon’s game would also mark Doc Rivers’ first return to Philadelphia since the Sixers parted ways with the veteran head coach this past offseason.

A strong start from Tyrese Maxey and Paul Reed gave the Sixers hope at the moment, but the moment the two subbed out of the game, the tide turned against Philadelphia. From holding their own to holding on for dear life, the Sixers found themselves behind the eightball early, thanks to the struggles of several key players.

Tobias Harris’ continued struggles

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris (12) goes up for a shot against Milwaukee Bucks’ Bobby Portis (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Tobias Harris opened up the game by defending Giannis relatively well, all things considered. He maintained his position in the post against him and did well to force him to pass the ball back out and the Bucks’ offense to reset. That defensive effectiveness noticeably died off in the second half, meaning that the one redeemable aspect of Harris’ game Sunday afternoon did as well.

Offensively, Harris continues to be the mound of indecisiveness he has been for some time. Never known as a particularly quick decision-maker, his willingness to commit to an offensive action is now at an all-time low. Uncertainty surrounds Harris more times than not when he receives the ball in the half-court.

Without Joel Embiid on the court especially, the Sixers need Harris to be resolute in his decision-making, not because he’s making $40 million, but because he’s one of the few players on the roster who have proven capable of doing so.

The Kelly Oubre honeymoon is long over

Philadelphia 76ers’ Kelly Oubre Jr., right, goes up for a shot against Milwaukee Bucks’ Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When Kelly Oubre first made his debut with the Philadelphia 76ers, fans were astounded by the production that they saw. Not just because it had been what felt like a millennium since the team had an athletic true wing, but because the story that had followed Oubre throughout his career was a far cry from what they were witnessing.

Flash forward to Feb 25, and if, by this point, the honeymoon phase with Oubre wasn’t over, it should be now. Finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, it’s easy to think that statement is a bit harsh when you’re watching the box score. Factoring in his continued inefficiency and poor shot choice, it’s clear just how ineffective he truly was.

There is a useful player in Oubre; however, due to the rash of injuries the Sixers have faced and with the absence of Joel Embiid, his flaws have become far more noticeable as his usage has increased. When the day comes that the Sixers are truly healthy, Oubre could very well return to the reliable player he was to start the season. Until then, it will continue to be feast or famine.

Are the Sixers “unwatchable” without Joel Embiid?

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

During the game, one viewer speculated if these Sixers, without Joel Embiid, are “unwatchable.” There have been several tough-to-watch outings, and the team is now 7-16 without their superstar. Does that equate to them being “unwatchable?”

While there is certainly much the Sixers must improve on if they’re to tread water without Embiid in the lineup, this same squad just overcame the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night, albeit sans Donovan Mitchell.

The team is not unwatchable, but their role-player-heavy roster is susceptible to reoccurring foibles. This is all the more reason why there needs to be a certain level of consistency from Tyrese Maxey, Buddy Hield, and Tobias Harris, the latter two of whom struggled mightily in this game.

Only if they’re operating at full efficiency can this team ride the waves of this time without Embiid. The road certainly won’t be getting any easier in the meantime.

Up next for the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, goes up for a shot against Boston Celtics’ Al Horford during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Sixers are off to Boston where they’ll meet up with the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM and you can catch the game on TNT.