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    Sixers get smacked by Bucks in Doc Rivers' return to Philadelphia

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    February 25, 2024
    Tyrese Maxey getting blocked by Giannis.

    The Doc Rivers return to Philadelphia was a success for Milwaukee, with the Bucks easily dispatching the Sixers in a 119-98 beatdown that was never close in the second half.

    Here’s what I saw.

    The Good

    — If nothing else, it was good to see De’Anthony Melton out on the floor for a second consecutive game, and they got a pretty good game out of him to boot. At his best, he’s the sort of player who ties together lineups and makes up for shortcomings for the teammates alongside of him, and we got some of that in the Sunday matinee.

    Melton tends to be billed as a defense guy first and foremost, but his most valuable trait for this group may be his shooting ability. When he gets hot, he can hurt teams in a variety of ways — he’s comfortable as a pull-up shooter, and he’s good enough on the move to stretch defenses and open up attacking lanes for the rest of the group. It looked like Philadelphia was on the verge of waiving the white flag against Milwaukee, and then Melton hit a pair of threes midway through the third, helping them stay within credible striking distance.

    (“Credible striking distance” basically meant “anything less than 20” on Sunday. So perhaps I’m stretching a bit.)

    — Things only I appreciate: Kyle Lowry taking a “professional foul” on Giannis in transition, preventing him from getting any sort of credible shot up at the rim. I’ve seen a lot of guys on this team fail to stop the shot to turn it into an easy three-point play, so that was refreshing.

    — I thought the Sixers honestly did a pretty good job of showing Giannis numbers behind whoever the primary defender was, particularly in transition. He still put up some great counting stats, but there were stretches of this game where they limited his impact, and with the way he’s playing this year, I’d consider that a small victory.

    The Bad

    — With something closer to a healthy roster, there’s going to be a bit less “It’s all they have!” when it comes to lineup selection. There were a few choices I did not love on Nick Nurse’s end Sunday.

    For one, the Sixers are going way too small for a team that desperately needs help in the rebounding department. Right after Nurse went to a Payne-Melton-Lowry trifecta in the first quarter, they gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw by Giannis, conceding an extra two points for no real reason. And that group gave them almost nothing to speak of on offense, with the Sixers going through an extreme drought as the Bucks padded their lead.

    Based on what we have seen so far, one of Maxey or Hield needs to be on the floor at basically all times. When Maxey hits the bench, Philadelphia poses zero danger to the opponent. It’s a collection of secondary creators who do not combine into one functional creator. That might be different if Tobias Harris was in a groove, but…

    — Over the last few weeks, Tobias Harris has been where good offense goes to die. It hasn’t mattered if the matchups are favorable, and it’s hard to get a handle on why he has been so out of sorts. Nick Nurse even said before Sunday’s game that Harris has no lingering issues (injury or illness) that he’s aware of, taking that excuse off of the table. So I simply don’t understand what we’re watching. He has had his issues over the years, but he should be able to hit a standard far higher than this.

    Harris’ indecisiveness has been at an all-time high lately, which is jarring when you see who he struggles to take off of the dribble. He proved unable to do anything with matchups against Danilo Galinari, who shouldn’t be able to guard Harris at 50% health. Unsure of his driving angles, Harris floated to nowhere on a few occasions, either settling for tough shots along the baseline or shutting down the possession altogether.

    We’re going to spend a lot of time until Joel Embiid comes back assessing Tyrese Maxey as the head honcho, fairly or unfairly. It should be acknowledged during that time that on a normal team with hopes of contending, the normal “third guy” making $40 million would be expected to step into the foreground and help carry the team. Part of the reason to carry Harris through this year’s trade deadline is because you expect him to do exactly that in Embiid’s absence. Instead, he has been as much of a passenger as any other role player on the team. That’s not going to cut it.

    Harris is playing with the urgency of a guy who cares very little about his own personal incentives, let alone keeping the team afloat, which is even more shocking in a contract year. Even a bit of self-centered, “I need to get the bag” stuff would be appreciated right now. He’s just floating through games as if he feels assertion is above him. It is mystifying.

    — I wouldn’t go so far as to say Paul Reed was the main problem for the Sixers, because he was one of the few players who showed any ability to beat his man one-on-one. Reed posed problems for Brook Lopez in the opening five minutes of this game, and he was a positive force on the glass, creating extra possessions for a team that badly needed them.

    On the other hand, he was a great example of their subpar offensive awareness on Sunday. Taking a jumper to keep the defense honest is one thing, but Reed was taking one-legged fadeaways like he was Dirk Nowitzki. There was a midrange jumper he let go with 18 on the shot clock that would have been an auto-benching if I were coaching the team. Downhill Reed is one thing, especially with Brook Lopez sitting in drop for most of the game. This was another matter entirely.

    But he shouldn’t be put in that position to begin with. If Harris was taking on the share of offensive responsibility you’d expect of a $40 million player, Reed would have shot half as many attempts. Unfortunately, the second most important player available to play is passing up open threes and dribbling into traffic. Eventually, someone has to shoot the damn ball.

    Another note on Nurse and the strategy side of things: I don’t understand why they’re using Reed the way they have on defense. Instead of adjusting their coverages and calls based on who is available, they’re mostly asking Reed to do what they’d want from Embiid. Rather than leaning into Reed as a switch defender who can step out and chase smaller guys, he’s sitting back in drop coverage and getting crushed in pick-and-rolls by either the guard or the roller. Measured against his usual standards, Dame Lillard has had a fairly rough 2024, but when he’s allowed to step into clean-ish looks, he’s going to hurt you. Lillard had an ultra-efficient afternoon in Philly, to the surprise of no one watching how they defended him.

    — Tyrese Maxey has an unenviable task in front of him right now, with their best player out and Tobias Harris essentially pulling a Houdini in the middle of the season. He’s far down the list of “problems” for this game, but he was not at his best.

    On his drives to the basket, this felt like a classic case of Maxey trying too hard to force and sell contact. Brook Lopez is a tough guy to attack at the summit and may have gotten away with a foul or two along the way, but Maxey’s biggest problem was failing to actually challenge Lopez. If you rise up and the bigger man gets the best of you, that’s okay, but Maxey did a lot of swerving and dipping to play around Lopez, and the results were not any better than they would have been if he tried to go over the top.

    If I’m going to give him credit for something in this game, I thought his off-ball reads on defense were far better than normal, with Maxey offering plenty of well-timed stunts to force the ball out of Giannis’ hands. Ultimately didn’t do much good for them, but that kind of stuff is important to track as we look forward to the playoffs.

    (Assuming they get to the playoffs, of course, which at the rate they’re going is not a certainty.)

    — Buddy Hield gave the Sixers just about nothing in this game. Terrible off-ball defense, the shot wasn’t there, and even worse was that he seemed reluctant to let it go at times. You are here for one reason and one reason alone, sir. Shoot that MF thang.

    The Ugly

    — Are there any Kelly Oubre defenders left in this fanbase? There can’t be more than a few. Other than appreciating his willingness to go for poster dunks whenever possible, there’s nothing that enjoyable about watching him play. And that seems pretty remarkable for a guy who should be an aesthetically pleasing watch.

    Multiple times per game, Oubre has to be told where to go on offense, and he caught an earful from Tyrese Maxey on one second-half possession against the Bucks. That’d be an issue if it was limited to one side of the ball, but Oubre has been out to lunch on defense for what feels like months.

    I just don’t have much tolerance for guys who shamelessly jack up shots and can’t be bothered to pay attention when they’re not shooting the ball. But at least he crashes the o-glass hard, which is more than you can say about most of these jokers.

    — Doc Rivers heard quite a few boos during his introduction. No surprise there. But he did get the last laugh.

    — These guys simply weren’t ready to play on Sunday. This is an amazing play by Giannis, for example…

    …but getting beat down the floor after a made basket by the slowest person on the other team is rough. They do not have the talent to constantly have concentration issues.

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