Doc Rivers triumphant in return to Philly as Bucks defeat 76ers, 119-98

Doc Rivers hasn't gotten off to the best start as the Milwaukee Bucks' midseason head coach replacement, but Sunday was a good day.

He and the Bucks traveled to Philly to face the Philadelphia 76ers, the team that fired him at the end of the 2022-23 season, for the first time since he was hired by the Bucks in January. Rivers went in with a painful 4-7 record as Bucks head coach, but emerged with a definitely-less-painful 5-7 after the Bucks stuffed the Sixers, 119-98. He also managed to completely ignore a loud chorus of boos he received upon his return.

"I didn't even hear it, to be honest," Rivers said after the game, via ESPN. "That means I was back at home."

The game didn't look like it would be a blowout from the start. The Bucks and Sixers remained competitive until halfway through the first quarter. With 6:26 left the Sixers took a 17-16 lead, which would end up being their last lead of the entire game. The Bucks took over from that point, doubling their score by the end of the quarter, while the Sixers managed to score just four points over the final six-and-a-half minutes.

Doc Rivers returned to Philly for the first time since they fired him, but he got the last laugh as his Bucks smashed the Sixers 119-98.
Doc Rivers returned to Philly for the first time since they fired him, but he got the last laugh as his Bucks smashed the Sixers 119-98. (Bill Streicher/USA Today)

The Sixers saw a little more success in the second quarter, but it looked like the game was pretty much over by midway through the third quarter, with the Bucks were easily defending a 20-point lead. But the Sixers finally woke up with 5-6 minutes left in the quarter. They drained some consequential threes, including a pair of jumpers from D'Anthony Melton, and took advantage of the Bucks' hot shooting finally cooling off. The third quarter began with the Sixers down by 21, and ended with them down by just 13 — within striking distance.

But "within striking distance" is as close as they'd get. The Bucks got hot again in the fourth quarter, while the Sixers crippled themselves with sloppy play and big misses. They needed to get the deficit to single digits, but instead it went the other way, ballooning to 25 with under four minutes left.

The Bucks looked more than solid against the Sixers — they looked calm, comfortable and complete. They sent a barrage of threes toward Philly, which Philly was mostly helpless to defend without their star Joel Embiid (who is recovering from a knee injury), and the Bucks were accurate to boot. After a rocky start with Doc, Milwaukee is rounding into form.

"I love him," Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said of Rivers after dropping 30 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists against the 76ers. "It's been incredible playing for him. He just explains to me, what he wants from me. You respect him because he's been 25 years in the league ... you've got to respect what he's done in the league, won a championship, won a lot of games, but when he comes in the locker room, he keeps it simple."

The Sixers, meanwhile, are pinning their hopes on Embiid making a late-season return, and trying not to lose too much ground until that happens.