The Philadelphia Sixers received little time for rest, as they travelled directly to Milwaukee after their overtime loss in Detroit yesterday. By the time the see-sawing battle against the Pistons concluded, the Sixers had just 23 hours before tip-off at Fiserv Forum.
Looking to rebound, they collided with the buzzsaw that is the Bucks, who continued their impressive start to the season in cruising to their third double-digit win in four games, 123-108.
In a major boost to the 2-2 Philly squad pregame, Ben Simmons was declared a healthy start after being held out the previous night with back soreness.
Before the game, fellow Aussie, Jonah Bolden spoke to the difficulties the Sixers face when trying to cover the loss of their franchise star.
"It’s big, he’s our leader and has the ball in his hands most of the time when he’s on the court," Bolden said.
"He’s the chief on the court, so he’s directing traffic and telling guys where to go. I think that was missed last night, but guys stepped up in replace of that. We didn’t come up with the result we wanted, but when we miss Ben we have to try to substitute for that somehow."
In line with the up and down start for the Aussies in the NBA this season, Matthew Dellavedova was an early scratch with illness, while Thon Maker was once again active, awaiting his opportunity to make his season debut.
Simmons quickly put to rest any concerns around his troublesome back, cutting his way through the Bucks defense to stuff the box score with six points, five rebounds and three assists in the first period. The Bucks have preached all preseason of their desire to let fly from beyond the arc, and they certainly did so to start out, though the results were ugly, ending the period 1-for-11 and trailing 34-22.
The second quarter proved to be the game breaker for Milwaukee, as they poured in an absurd 49 points to outscore the Sixers by 19 and go into the main break with a 71-64 advantage. In a complete reversal of fortunes, they scorched the nets to go 8-for-13 from three, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez combining for 40 points.
Former Boomers, and now Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown was asked about the Sixers defense in light of the 3-point barrage post game, in particular referring to Lopez, who drilled four in the quarter.
“He was hitting them from 40-feet out, you just shake his hand,” Brown remarked.
From that point on, Milwaukee controlled the contest, never really sparking any doubt among the jubilant Fiserv Forum crowd.
One of the leagues MVP frontrunners, Antetokounmpo compiled a monstrous line of 32 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks for the winners, while Simmons himself tallied a triple-double of his own, with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
It was far from the usual dynamic display from the Aussie, who finished 6-for-15 from the field, and despite putting up strong stats, was often forced into difficult shots, appearing troubled by the sheer size of the Bucks defense.
Early in the season, the Bucks have often opted to roll out a line-up consisting of three players 6-foot-10 or above. The sheer size in the paint was designed to restrict Simmons' normally insane efficiency close to the basket, and The Pick and Roll asked Coach Brown about the challenges that presented on the night.
“It’s a copy-cat league, that’s what the Celtics did in the Eastern Conference Semi’s and that’s what my good friend, the coach of the team here in Milwaukee scouts and sees,” Brown remarked.
“That’s part of Ben’s growth, trying to navigate that type of crowd when it’s more of a static game. You see his breakaway speed and when [the game is] fast he shines. He’s our Giannis and Giannis is their Ben. They’re very similar in how they play with their breakaway speed. That’s how the league guards both of those players.”
Despite the loss, witnessing Giannis and Simmons attack each other at either end of the floor is a sight to behold for basketball lovers, with both players dazzling once they get room to work in transition. Giannis was the dominant force on this night, though Simmons lamented the fact he was not assigned with the task of guarding the Greek Freak more frequently.
“I feel like I should’ve been on him all night,” Simmons said.
Most pundits expect these squads to be right among the lead contenders in the East, and tonight marks the first of four times the Bucks and Sixers will square off in the regular season. The season is young, and tonight may mean little in the long run, but this one was all Milwaukee. In fact, to be truthful, it's been all Milwaukee from pre-season tip-off.
Thon Maker was handed another DNP-CD. Coming off a series of impressive performances in last season playoffs, Maker has found himself buried in the Milwaukee rotation behind Lopez and John Henson. While being made active is a step in the right direction the past two contests, there has been no sign of breaking into the rotation.
Bolden also failed to see action tonight, and The Pick and Roll got the chance to discuss the rookies limited role early in the season.
"There’s been no personal frustration and that comes from just knowing my role," Bolden explained. "Like I’ve always said, I know I’m coming into a great team with great expectations and high goals so it’s not like I’m going to come in and make a difference straight away when the foundation of the team has been set. I’m just about waiting for that opportunity and remaining focused whether it comes at the beginning or end."
Brett Brown was asked about Simmons' back post game, and how he thought his star point guard looked on return.
"I thought he looked ok," Brown said. "I planned on playing him not as many minutes, but physically I thought he looked good and so we went with him."
The 4-0 Bucks now head on the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday morning, while the 2-3 Sixers host the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday morning.