MILWAUKEE – If today’s game is anything to go by, a Milwaukee-Philadelphia seven-game series could be the best thing in the NBA playoffs.
A beautiful Sunday afternoon attracted a record crowd of 18,148 to Fiserv Forum, with the star-studded Sixers walking away with what could be labelled a statement win.
Joel Embiid starred with 40 points, Jimmy Butler came up with countless clutch buckets in the fourth-quarter as they were able to hold off a career-high 52-point effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo, 130-125.
Though the Sixers new acquisitions are still getting to know each other, the testiness between the two contenders in the Eastern Conference remains, with primal screams, mean mugs and crowd taunting all part of the show.
Being St. Patrick’s day, Philadelphia forward, Mike Scott, even got among the spirit, spilling into the second row to save a loose ball, before taking a sip of a fans drink - a beverage he later revealed was straight Jack Daniels.
For Ben Simmons, it was far from a standout performance. The Australian All-Star finished with eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Despite the low scoring output, he was featured in one of the game's highlight stretches of play, fouling Antetokounmpo on a ferocious dunk in the fourth-quarter, before exacting his revenge on the very next play, throwing down a vicious put-back slam to help keep Milwaukee at bay.
Post-game, Simmons was sipping on a glass of red wine in the locker room, heard joking and laughing with Jimmy Butler in what was a vibrant Sixers group. The Pick and Roll asked Simmons whether he enjoyed the challenge of playing on the NBA’s MVP frontrunner.
"Definitely, he's the main guy on their team so obviously he's a tremendous player but I love taking the challenge of guarding somebody like that,” Simmons said.
Antetokounmpo on the other hand was just relieved to get any possession away from the physical specimen of Embiid when asked about his comfort level going one-on-one with Simmons.
“It's easy,” Antetokounmpo said.
After his dunk on Simmons, Antetokounmpo could be seen mouthing, “he’s a f****** baby.” There’s no doubt Antetokounmpo fancied his chances against the Australian, but he explained that had more to do with the difficulty Embiid poses, rather than the alternative.
“I'd rather Ben guard me than Joel, it's simple. If Jo is guarding me all night, everything is so tough for you but when someone else switches whether it's Jimmy or Ben or Scott or Marjanovic it's way easier and you just try to seize the opportunity and make a play.”
Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown was quick to point out this new roster has only played seven games together as a complete starting unit, Simmons believes this games result is a sign of intent.
“We’re here to compete. We can compete with the best. I think Elton Brand has done a great job of putting us all together. Obviously, Coach Brown and the coaching staff are doing a good job. It’s fun,” Simmons said.
Jonah Bolden did not see the floor in the game, as Brown opted to go with Boban Marjanovic for 11 minutes as the back-up big. Despite Bolden appearing to be stuck behind Marjanovic in the rotation, Brown was quick to reassure the media that the decision is far from made between those two in the lead up to the playoffs.
“After the trade when Boban came in, his minutes got hurt. Joel and Boban were my two-headed center spot that they occupied. During Joel and Boban’s injuries, we saw Jonah come in and play well. More than anything, you should have seen the confidence I had in him to play a lot,” Brown said of Bolden.
When hypothesising about future playoff scenarios, Brown pointed to this Milwaukee team as a potential match-up that could lead to minutes for the rookie.
“I do know that there is always going to be a decision when it comes to tolerance level, say if Brook Lopez starts shooting a bunch of threes and making them. Is that the environment for Boban to be in, that’s a coach’s judgement of how you can feel around the game. In that environment, Jonah is not dead and buried, he is certainly someone that we are aware of his skillset,” Brown revealed.
The win moved Philadelphia into sole possession of the third seed, as they are now owners of a 45-25 record. If seeding were to hold as they currently sit, that could potentially see these two teams meet back in Milwaukee for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
I think all involved would be completely fine with that.