The Philadelphia 76ers lost their home opener 90-88 on Thursday night. This revamped Sixers squad – one that crowed about championship goals throughout the offseason – is off to a disappointing 0-2 start.
All-Star center Joel Embiid has looked sluggish in the first two games, perhaps feeling the effects of a lingering thumb injury. Vice versa, James Harden has returned to his 2018 MVP form, only this version has a team-first mindset. The Milwaukee Bucks outplayed the Sixers on their home floor. No excuses.
Doc Rivers is still tinkering with his rotations and admitted it takes to build chemistry. The head coach tinkered with a small-ball lineup featuring P.J. Tucker at center for a stretch, pairing him with Danuel House Jr., De’Anthony Melton, James Harden, and Tobias Harris. That unit sparked life into them but in the end it wasn’t enough. Next up, a date with the San Antonio Spurs (October 22) at Wells Fargo Center.
Bucks 90, Sixers 88: 5 Things We Saw at Wells Fargo Center
Joel Embiid Looks Rusty: This was supposed to Joel Embiid’s “Kobe Year.” Tired of early playoff exits and freak injuries, the Big Fella enjoyed a quiet offseason for the first time in seven seasons. He (mostly) stayed off Twitter and only a few workout videos leaked out. Embiid was all business, until the games started. The MVP runner-up looked out of sorts for a second straight night and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds versus Milwaukee. He had a horrendous third quarter where he went 0-for-5 en route to a dismal 6-of-21 shooting night. He left the arena without speaking to the media.
Matisse Thybulle Sighting: The defensive stopper saw just 23 seconds the other night against Boston, leading to speculation that he was officially out of Doc Rivers’ rotation. Maybe even on the trade block. Things didn’t get any better for Thybulle versus Milwaukee. He checked in with 9.0 seconds to go in the third quarter, then went right back to the bench. He got another 9.1 seconds late in the fourth to give him a whopping 41.1 combined seconds through two games, and that’s from a guy who started 50 games last season.
The Return of the Beard: Speaking of MVP hopefuls, what about James Harden? The Beard looks re-energized and extra motivated following an odd 2021-22 campaign that saw him endure a nagging hamstring injury and self-labeled “dark moments” following his trade from Brooklyn. He did everything in this one: rifling passes out to a leaking Tyrese Maxey, tossing alley-oops to Danuel House Jr., playing defense and grabbing two clutch steals.
And scoring at will. Harden reeled off big bucket after big bucket in the fourth, including 6 straight points to get it tied up at 80-80. He finished with 31 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals. Harden had a chance to hit a potential game-winning floater with 4.7 seconds. It bounced out but he wanted a foul called.
Getting Tyrese Maxey Going: Prior to tip-off at Wells Fargo Center, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was talking about how the team made a concerted effort to get Tyrese Maxey going late during the opener in Boston. It was a slog, but Mad Max finally turned it on. “I think we have to get him going, keep him going all game,” Rivers said. “Right now, even in preseason, there’s stretches where he goes away and we just gotta keep him in attack mode all game.” Maxey attacked more in the home opener, using his speed to get to the basket for easy layups. However, his jumper is a tad off as he went 6-of-13 from the field for 15 points.
Brook Lopez Loves Playing Philly: Bucks big man Brook Lopez always has monster games versus Philadelphia. It’s just one of those weird phenomenon that no one can figure out. The savvy veteran did it again on Thursday: 17 points, including 4 triples and a bevy of hustle plays at the rim along with tough defense on Embiid. He didn’t shoot it at a high rate, but all of his baskets were momentum changers. Lopez came in averaging 15.8 points in 30.3 minutes against the Sixers in 40 career games. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists.