The Milwaukee Bucks avenged a Christmas Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers by defeating the visitors 112-101 on Thursday at Fiserv Forum.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated all game with 36 points, 20 rebounds and six assists to lead his team to its 12th win in 13 tries. He had a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double before halftime.
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Khris Middleton added 20 points, and Eric Bledsoe contributed 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Their efforts helped Milwaukee win its 29th game by double digits.
Tobias Harris led the 76ers with 25 points. Joel Embiid had a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double but shot just 6-of-26. Ben Simmons registered a near triple-double with 11 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
The 31-21 76ers, who shot just 37.4 percent from the field, finished their four-game road trip without a win.
76ers PG Ben Simmons: 11 PTS, 14 REB, 9 AST
76ers C Joel Embiid: 19 PTS, 11 REB, 6 AST
76ers F Tobias Harris: 25 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST
Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 36 PTS, 20 REB, 6 AST
Bucks F Khris Middleton: 20 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST
Bucks G Eric Bledsoe: 14 PTS, 8 REB, 6 AST
Giannis Unstoppable Once Again
A 19-point, 10-rebound outing is a great game for nearly every player in the league, but Giannis Antetokounmpo hit those marks before the first half ended against a 76ers team ranked top five in defensive rating.
The likely back-to-back NBA MVP led the Bucks in points and rebounds and co-led in assists en route to guiding Milwaukee to its 44th win in 51 games. He went 11-of-16 on two-pointers and finished with a team-best plus-18 on-court rating.
The Greek Freak broke out his entire arsenal Thursday, including this up-and-under on 76ers center Joel Embiid.
He bullied his way into the paint against big man Al Horford:
But he didn't need to use his power to score against big men, with this spin move acting as one example:
He one-handed an offensive rebound and put it back in one fell swoop:
And if the Bucks collapsed on Antetokounmpo, then he was fine finding a wide-open man for a bucket, like Pat Connaughton on this dunk:
Antetokounmpo even joined some lofty company thanks to his stat line, per Elias Sports (h/t ESPN Stats & Info):
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Giannis Antetokounmpo now has his 5th consecutive game with at least 30 pts, 15 reb, 5 ast — tying Wilt Chamberlain for the longest such streak in NBA history. It's also his 11th such game this season, the rest of the NBA has combined for 10 such games. (h/t @EliasSports) https://t.co/6JBbxMlHXG
The only place where he struggled was beyond the three-point line due to a 1-of-6 performance, but that quickly became a moot point.
Antetokounmpo undoubtedly had his worst game of the year against the 76ers in December, shooting 8-of-27 for 18 points in a 12-point loss. It was fair to wonder whether the defensively stout 76ers were a bad matchup for him.
But the reality is that Antetokounmpo is a terrible matchup for everyone else in the league, and that Christmas Day performance was a stutter step in an otherwise phenomenal year that should end with an MVP Award.
Embiid's Performance Punctuates Awful Road Trip for 76ers
The biggest takeaway from the 76ers' loss to Milwaukee is one singular stat: 3-of-16.
Those figures mark Joel Embiid's performance from two-point range Thursday in a game that was one to forget for Philadelphia.
Embiid finished 6-of-26 overall after going 1-of-10 in the first half. On defense, he simply had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who helped the Bucks outscore the 76ers 48-30 in the paint.
It's been a perplexing road trip for Embiid, who went 1-of-11 against the Boston Celtics two games earlier. He also scored below his season average against one of the worst defensive (and overall) teams in the league in the Atlanta Hawks.
Embiid's best game in this stretch was a 29-point, 12-rebound effort versus the Miami Heat, but the 76ers ended up losing that one by 31.
Ultimately, Thursday arguably marked Embiid's worst game of the season, and Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice noted that Bucks backup center Robin Lopez outplayed the big man:
Glen Macnow of WIP Sports Radio relayed some tough comments made by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal on the NBA on TNT halftime show:
All the preseason talk of the 76ers and Bucks contending for the Eastern Conference crown has washed away as Philadelphia is turning into this year's version of the 2018-19 Boston Celtics: a fantastic team on paper that's severely disappointing on court in the midst of great preseason expectations.
It's certainly not all Embiid's fault.
The 76ers' offense is more or less broken, with Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic WPEN noting that Embiid and Al Horford combined to shoot 22 three-pointers. Two big men doing the job of backcourt players isn't a recipe for offensive success.
Moreover, the 76ers' bench simply hasn't performed well up to this point, with a mediocre net rating of 14th in the league entering Thursday, per NBA.com. The bench is also third-last in points per game.
On Thursday, 76ers reserves scored 23 points on 8-of-23 shooting compared to 30 points on 12-of-27 shooting for the Bucks.
The 76ers will be getting help in the form of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III via a trade with the Golden State Warriors, but it's fair to wonder whether this team even has more than a slight glimmer of hope for an NBA title.
Philadelphia is now sixth in an Eastern Conference paced by a dominant Bucks team and a tough three-team pack (the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat) that looks like it has reservations for the East semifinals.
Embiid is the player who can change that narrative. At his best, he's a tremendous center with a world of talent, but he's suffering through a rough patch right now.
Thankfully for the 76ers, they'll now be returning home, where they're 22-2. Perhaps that will get Embiid and his team back on track.
Philadelphia will begin a four-game homestand against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Wells Fargo Center.
The Bucks will visit the Orlando Magic at Amway Center on Saturday at 5 p.m.