Three Thoughts: Ben Simmons returns as 76ers defence collapses against Bucks
Here are three thoughts on the Milwaukee Bucks 123-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
1. That second quarter: Bucks thrive while Sixers collapse
The high-flying Bucks offence, which had destroyed the NBA during opening week, was muted in the first quarter by a diligent Sixers effort. Milwaukee scored a meagre 22 points – well, a meagre total by their current standards – on just 22% shooting from the field and a paltry 1/11 from the three-point line.
Things changed quickly in the second period. Milwaukee erupted for 49 points, backed by a three-point shooting barrage from Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, with the latter converting on five consecutive long-range attempts to end the half.
While Milwaukee possesses some of the best shooters in basketball, the Sixers were a perfect complement for the Bucks aggressive approach. Philadelphia’s defensive effort, or lack thereof, collapsed after a promising start. A series of mental errors and miscues were to blame, and Simmons was especially at fault when it came to Middleton.
Simmons fouled Middleton on two outside jump shots in the first half. This alone cost Philadelphia five points through silly mistakes, and the resulting foul trouble seemingly spooked the reigning Rookie of the Year. Playing with a clear avoidance to picking up a third foul, Simmons was too far removed from Middleton on the perimeter. It gave the Bucks sharpshooter space to find his shooting pocket and launch in rhythm.
Simmons was also caught out in his attempts to switch simple actions involving Middleton.
This benign pick-and-roll coverage is butchered by Simmons and Amir Johnson, leaving Middleton to walk into an easy attempt. It’s hard to know who is at fault here without hearing from both Simmons and Johnson, but going against one of the best shooters in basketball requires a conservative touch. That was missing from Simmons, and the Sixers defence as a whole, during a disastrous second quarter that ultimately proved fateful.
2. Sloppy Sixers
The Sixers returned to their careless ways, especially over the middle two quarters where they were outscored 70-47. Philadelphia committed a season high 16 turnovers and were guilty of poor shot selection for large stretches. Playing on the second night of a back-to back for the first time this season appeared to take its toll.
On paper, the Sixers two big stars had impressive games as they stuffed the stat sheet. Simmons collected his second triple double of the season. In just his fourth full game, the Australian led Philadelphia with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
Joel Embiid's stat line - 30 points, 19 rebounds and 6 assists - was equally impressive for the Sixers, although both were unable to truly impact the game like they are capable of. Their respective stats overstated their impact. J.J. Redick chipped in with 19 points off the bench, but the rest of Philadelphia's roster was largely ineffective.
3. Australian injury ward and minutes update
Four Australians combine across the Bucks and Sixers rosters, but Simmons was the only one to hit the court Wednesday night.
Simmons, who missed Philadelphia’s overtime loss in Detroit yesterday, was cleared to return after his lower back tightness has relieved. He played 38 minutes and could be seen stretching his back out vigorously when on the bench.
Jonah Bolden was a DNP-coaches decision for the Sixers, as was Thon Maker for the Bucks. Maker has yet to play a single minute of basketball this season.
Matthew Dellavedova was inactive on the night due to an illness.
Giannis Antetokounmpo collected his first triple double of the season. 32 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists represent the latest example of why the Greek All-Star is an early season favourite for MVP.
This is the second consecutive night where a Sixers opponent was deservedly showered with MVP chants. Antetokounmpo received the treatment just 24 hours after Blake Griffin went for 50 points against Philadelphia.
The Simmons and Fultz experiment continues to cause some funky looking offensive sets for the Sixers. We will be taking a deeper look into this tomorrow, but here is one example from tonight’s game.
Simmons and Fultz both have the opportunity launch wide open three-point attempts if they were so inclined. The majority of all NBA players certainly would in this situation. With neither willing to shoot, an inside drive from Simmons is needed to save the possession. Yes, Simmons scored on the play, but life would be much easier with a jump shot. Playing them together will continue causing moments that are a throwback to the 1990s.
Here are Simmons’ first four fouls on the night: fouling Middleton on a three-point field goal; fouling Middleton on a two-point field goal; wildly swinging an elbow out while driving against Middleton; and a charge drawn by Ersan Ilyasova. Each was avoidable and the culmination of all fouls negatively impacted his aggressiveness on defense.
Brook Lopez started the game missing three relatively clean looks from behind the arc. He then responded by knocking down five straight as the Bucks caught fire.
One obvious benefit of Simmons returning is that the Sixers transform back into a lethal transition team. When they could get stops, Simmons created some of the cleanest looks Philadelphia got all night.
Philadelphia shot 6-8 on threes in the first quarter. They missed 11 of their next 12 attempts, before finishing the night 11-34.
Mike Muscala got his first minutes playing alongside Simmons and Embiid. Brown ran many of the same plays for Muscala that he used for Ilyasova last season.
It is honestly surprising any time Middleton misses a three. Such is the confidence and assertiveness with which he is currently playing. Middleton is a certain All-Star in the Eastern Conference if he can maintain this performance through Christmas.