The Philadelphia 76ers fell a few bounces short in what could very well be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 118-116.
It was a slog to start. James Harden carried them through a rough first quarter, with timely scoring from Tobias Harris. The Sixers trailed by as many as 11 points before taking a 10-point advantage into the halftime locker room. They couldn’t hold it.
Joel Embiid snapped into MVP form while holding off a tough defensive effort from Brook Lopez. The All-Star center finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Harden had 32 points and 9 assists, with Harris posting a double-double (22 points, 11 rebounds).
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5 Things We Learned: Sixers vs. Bucks
1. Big Game James: James Harden was probably sick of hearing about his disappearing act in big games. Two days after a stinker in Phoenix, The Beard put the cape on and showed why he could be the missing piece to the championship puzzle. Harden scored 12 points on 80% shooting in the first quarter and breathed life into an otherwise dead team at the time. He gets a pass for missing a potential game-winning three in the closing seconds.
2. Paul Millsap, First Sub: Prior to tip-off, Doc Rivers was asked if he was “comfortable” with the Sixers’ depth at backup center. The head coach said “I’m comfortable.” DeAndre Jordan had been getting the bulk of the minutes there when Joel Embiid needed to rest. Well, Jordan was nowhere to be found versus Milwaukee. Paul Millsap was the first sub in and Jordan never left the bench. Millsap held his own in the first half, then got all he could handle – namely from Giannis Antetokounmpo – in the second half.
3. Welcome Back, Tobias: It’s time to stop judging Tobias Harris by the size of his $180 million contract. He’s still growing into his new role as the fourth option. He was sensational on Tuesday, creating shots for himself in the lane and dropping back for open triples. And his defense was great in spurts, especially on Khris Middleton. This was the Tobias Harris the Sixers are going to need in the postseason.
4. MVP vs. MVP: While Embiid and Giannis rarely guarded each other in this one, they certainly stated their cases for MVP in every possible way. Alley-oops. No-look passes. Step-back triples. Fadeaways in the lane. Second-chance points. Blocks. The voters have a tough decision to make between those two and Nikola Jokic. Antetokounmpo’s miraculous rejection on Embiid with 1.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter – overturned for goaltending after review – sealed the Sixers’ fate. Not surprisingly, the Bucks made their run with Embiid on the bench and Giannis in attack mode.
5. Good Barometer: The Sixers might see the Bucks again in a late-round playoff series so this matchup in March was being viewed as a good measuring stick. Philly fought hard for four quarters, but the ball got stuck on way too many possessions. Give Milwaukee credit: the defending NBA champions played like champions. “You hear everybody but Milwaukee,” Rivers said. “They didn’t luck into winning.”