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3 observations after Bucks smoke Sixers, win by 21 points in Philly

3 observations after Bucks smoke Sixers, win by 21 points in Philly originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Bucks had a fun Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Sixers would surely prefer to forget the day.

Milwaukee cruised to a blowout victory at Wells Fargo Center, earning a 119-98 win.

By beating the team he led for the last three years, Doc Rivers moved to 5-7 as Milwaukee head coach. The Bucks are 37-21 overall.

"I was happy with it overall," Rivers said pregame of his time in Philadelphia. "I just wish we could have gone further. I wish I could have had a chance to have Joel (Embiid) healthy in the playoffs. But when I took this job here, I think they got swept the year before in the first round. That regular season in the next year, we (were the first seed in) the East. Lost to Atlanta, which I would love to have that one back as a group.

"But overall, Joel became MVP. We established this team as a championship contender. That wasn't said the year before — and under a lot of stuff. You think about it … we had the James Harden trade, the Ben (Simmons) stuff. So there was a lot of stuff going on. Some was under my control, some was out of my control. But for me, if you don't win a title, you're never exactly happy. That's why we all do this. There's only going to be one of those a year, but I loved it here."

As expected, Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) and Damian Lillard (24 points, nine assists, seven boards) were the Bucks’ standouts Sunday. Malik Beasley added 20 points and shot 6 for 7 from three-point range.

Tyrese Maxey had 24 points and seven assists.

Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), KJ Martin (right ankle impingement) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) were sidelined. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton was out with a left ankle sprain.

Next up for the 33-24 Sixers is a Tuesday night road game against the Celtics. Here are observations on their loss to Milwaukee:

Reed surprisingly central in early going 

In an unlikely turn of events, Paul Reed was the Sixer who took the team’s most shots in the first quarter.

Reed began the game firing open jumpers without hesitation, which was not his norm under Rivers. He missed his first two but then knocked down a top-of-the-key three.

In addition to his jump shooting, Reed scored twice inside, competed hard on the glass, blocked a Lillard layup attempt, and brought his usual chaotic energy and hustle. Reed’s first run was not wholly positive, though. He committed two turnovers and got called for his second foul with 3:26 left in the first period.

With Reed sitting, Nurse played a small-ball lineup that had Nicolas Batum at center late in the first quarter. The Bucks attacked it well, getting Bobby Portis (15 first-half points) a couple of layups and preventing the Sixers’ guards from doing damage off the dribble.

Maxey was the Sixers’ best offensive player in the first half by a wide margin. He made sound decisions, tallied six assists and no turnovers, and gave the Bucks a bona fide downhill driving threat to worry about.

However, the Sixers’ offensive level dipped severely once Maxey exited. The Sixers grew very perimeter-oriented and misfired on many of the good looks they managed to create.

“I think offensively, we didn’t play near the way we needed to,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “We got a little quick in the shot selection, I think, and it was a little contagious. And then we didn’t make some of them. They weren’t the worst shots in the world, but if you’re going to take some of those ... I know it sounds silly, but you’ve to make them. I didn’t think we worked it side to side enough or got multiple touches. I think that was a bit of the deflating issue.”

The team shot 3 for 14 from three-point range in the first quarter. Kelly Oubre Jr. missed his first four field goals, including a ferocious dunk attempt over Bucks center Brook Lopez. Nurse was irate that no whistle blew on the play.

Bucks on fire in first half, Sixers slide downward

Nurse’s squad made an 11-0 run early in the second quarter that started with solid work from a three-guard lineup featuring Maxey, Kyle Lowry and De’Anthony Melton.

Patrick Beverley snapped the momentum of the team that traded him a couple of weeks ago, sinking a corner three-pointer. The Bucks built back a double-digit lead.

Milwaukee enjoyed an exceptionally hot shooting half, hitting 13 of 22 three-point tries over the first two quarters. Starting guards Lillard and Beasley drained three triples apiece.

On the Sixers’ side, neither of the team’s starting forwards provided anything in that department. Tobias Harris and Batum were each 0 for 1 from long distance in the first half.

As the Bucks’ lead swelled, the Sixers’ effort was not at all exemplary. Defensive rotations became a beat or two later, Milwaukee’s layups a bit more of a walk in the park. The half ended in fittingly sour fashion for the Sixers when Antetokounmpo tossed a full-court pass to Lopez, who scored at the rim just before the second-quarter buzzer to put the Bucks up 69-48.

Bad days for Harris and Hield

Reed was aggressive to start the third quarter, converting two layups, and the Sixers played better basketball as a team out of halftime.

They didn’t trend up for long. Reed picked up his fourth and fifth fouls and the Bucks were in the bonus for the majority of the third quarter. Mo Bamba was the sixth Sixer to come off the bench, receiving third-quarter center minutes.

The third period wasn’t entirely bleak for the Sixers, thanks in part to Batum making two three-pointers and Melton canning three. Maxey joined in on the long-distance shooting uptick, drilling a jumper late in the third that trimmed Milwaukee’s advantage to 93-82.

Playing his second game following an extended absence with a back injury, Melton had a nice day. He gladly accepted opportunities to let threes fly and posted 16 points, three rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. The Sixers will hope he continues to gain comfort and keeps adding high-volume three-point shooting along with his variety of other tools.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just the conditioning part,” Melton said. “I felt way more in shape this game, so it allowed me to do more on the court. I’ve just got to keep working through it and keep getting better.”

Unfortunately for the Sixers, starters Harris and Buddy Hield each came up empty on jumpers early in the fourth. Both players had bad days. They combined to shoot 7 for 24 from the field, including two garbage-time makes by Hield.

Against a talented, multi-star opponent like the Bucks, that sort of showing from two key players will usually coincide with a loss. And with Embiid out, there tend to be fewer chances available to make wide-open shots and right the ship once a day has begun to spiral.

“Just finding a way to get in a better flow out there,” Harris said of his struggles. “I think with the way that we’ve been playing, we’ve got to figure out a way to get a little bit more structure there in the half-court offense. Just keep being aggressive and looking for the shots when they’re there.

“But outside of that, keep making the right play. I think more times than not, getting into the paint. If the shot is there, take it. If there’s an open man, kick the ball out. But I am a person who prides himself on efficiency and that’s at the forefront of my game — finding some easy baskets out there on the floor — and some easy looks for myself to get going. Just stay with it.”

The Bucks’ victory Sunday clinched a season series win over the Sixers. The teams will meet once more on March 14 in Milwaukee.