Doc Rivers Calls Out ‘Soft’ Sixers, NBA Schedule Makers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid

Getty Joel Embiid matched up on Giannis Antetokounmpo a few times during Thursday night's Sixers-Bucks game but everyone felt Ben Simmons' absence.

Not too many things went right Thursday night for the Philadelphia 76ers. They fell behind 46-20 after the Milwaukee Bucks shot 72% in the first quarter. And ended up losing 124-117 in a much closer score than what transpired.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers thought the game was decided in those first 12 minutes, adding that his tired team looked “soft” defensively and offered no resistance in avoiding their third straight loss. Milwaukee shot 55.6% from the field for the contest and went up by as many as 21 at one point.

“I just felt like we were late on everything,” Rivers told reporters. “We were soft tonight defensively, that first quarter they got every shot they wanted. And we didn’t put much resistance up.”

One big reason for the hoop looking like a crater for the Bucks was the absence of Ben Simmons. The Sixers’ star point guard and defensive stopper missed his third straight game with the flu, leaving Rivers to mix-and-match defensively on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Normally, he would rotate Simmons and Joel Embiid on the two-time reigning MVP but he didn’t have that luxury on Thursday night. He didn’t want to exhaust Embiid who had been feeling fatigued coming into this one. He was on a pitch count and scored 24 points in 27 minutes.

“We really felt strong we can’t have him [Embiid] on Giannis to start the game. We don’t want to kill him,” Rivers said. “And, obviously, in a playoff game you have Ben on him or Joel on him, that would be what we would do, But that’s why I don’t get lost in regular-season games.”

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Blame Those Crazy NBA Schedule Makers

The Sixers traveled to Milwaukee after losing to Phoenix the night before in a tough back-to-back. It was actually their third game in four days, all Philly losses. Meanwhile, the Bucks entered Thursday night’s game refreshed having had a full three day’s of rest since an overtime loss to Phoenix on April 19.

“This is a scheduled loss,” Rivers said. “You’d have to be super-human to come in here [and win]. And what really hurts us on the back end of this is, we don’t have any time to recover, we play again at 3:30 [on Saturday].”

The uneven scheduling certainly stacked the deck against the Sixers, never mind that the team has been dealing with an unexpected rash of injuries. It didn’t go unnoticed by Rivers’ veteran eye who thinks the NBA did it on purpose. Why? Because the league didn’t expect the Sixers to be this good.

“It was disappointing when I saw it,” Rivers said. “To me, it told me they didn’t think we’d be where we’d be [at this point in the season], that was my first thought. But it is what it is. We got to suck it up, man, and we’ll be ready on Saturday.”

The Sixers and Bucks renew the series on Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee. Again, not much time to get guys recharged and healed up.

“And what really hurts us on the back end of this is, we don’t have any time to recover,” Rivers said. “We play again at 3:30 [on Saturday].”


Ben Simmons Feeling Sick, ’50-50 At Best’

Simmons didn’t make the road trip to Milwaukee, per Keith Pompey, but that doesn’t mean he’s definitely out for Saturday’s rematch. Rivers put his odds to return at “50-50” as the three-time All-Star continues to battle nausea and flu-like symptoms (not COVID-19). It might be a tad more serious than the Sixers initially led on.

“Right now I would say 50-50 at best. And I’m an optimist, but I don’t know,” Rivers said. “Clearly it’s more serious, but not so serious where he’s going to miss a lot of games. We just need him to get well.”

Meanwhile, Sixers forward Tobias Harris did return to the starting five on Thursday after missing the last three games with right knee soreness from a bone bruise. He finished with 18 points and six assists in 30 minutes (-17) as he slowly re-acclimated himself back into the mix.

“It was a good game for my confidence mentally to know I was able to play,” Harris said. “And not feel anything and to not feel any pain in that area, and to be able to have that confidence going forward.”

Rivers said Harris and Seth Curry (left hip flexor) had been getting rusty on the bench. He put both players back in the lineup to get them some rhythm.

“Obviously, we’ll continue to find the right rhythm and balance,” Harris said. “But overall, health-wise, I felt really good and that was a good sign for me, and that was a positive tonight.”


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