Two Eastern Conference heavyweights went head-to-head when the Milwaukee Bucks hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. When the Sixers and Bucks met in March, the Sixers were without Joel Embiid. This time around, they were without Ben Simmons. Both times, the Bucks walked away with a win. In a game that wasn't as close as the final score of 124-117 would indicate, the Bucks had seven players score in double digits, led by reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished the game with 27 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists. His sidekick, Khris Middleton, added 24 points and 5 assists, and Bobby Portis dropped 23 points off of the bench for Milwaukee. Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with 24 points and 3 rebounds, and Tobias Harris also added 18 points and 6 assists for Philadelphia.
Neither team can afford to dwell on this one for too long though, as they'll be right back at it on Saturday afternoon. Before moving forward though, here's a look at three takeaways from Milwaukee's win on Thursday night.
Milwaukee jumped out to an early lead and never looked back
The Sixers were on the back end of a back-to-back on Thursday night, as they were coming off of a tough loss to the Phoenix Suns that went down to the final second, literally. The Bucks, on the other hand, hadn't played since Monday, so they were relatively fresh and they took advantage of that fact. The Bucks punched the Sixers in the mouth right out of the gate, and the Sixers were never quite able to pick themselves up off of the mat after that. Milwaukee started the game with a 10-0 run, and that lead quickly stretched to 20-8. During that span, the Bucks didn't miss a single shot as they went 10-for-10 from the floor to start the game. After that scorching start, they never really looked back. Milwaukee scored 77 points in the first half, which is the most points that the Sixers have given up in a half all season, and the Bucks shot 66 percent from the floor as a team -- their best shooting half of the season.
The Sixers made some inroads in the second half, and they even cut the deficit to nine in the third quarter, but that was as close as they would get, aside from a late run from their bench that made the final score more respectable than it was for the rest of the contest. This was a wire-to-wire win for Milwaukee, and one whose outcome never really felt like it was in question. Luckily for Philadelphia, they won't have to wait long to get another crack at the Bucks
Bucks gain a game on Sixers in standings, secure tiebreaker
Heading into the evening, the No. 3 Bucks were 3.5 games behind the top-seeded Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings. With the win, the Bucks climbed a full game closer to Philly, with the two teams set to meet each other again on Saturday afternoon. When it comes to the top seed in the East, most of the conversation has focused on the Sixers and Nets, but the Bucks have quietly remained in the picture. If they close out the season strong, they could conceivably jump both Brooklyn and Philly and claim pole position in the East for the third straight season. Additionally, the Bucks also secured the tiebreaker with the Sixers with their win on Thursday night, since they also bested Philly back in March. That is obviously important as the Bucks will now have the advantage should the two teams finish with the same regular season record.
Milwaukee made it rain from long range
A consistent theme over the course of the contest was Milwaukee's stellar shooting from beyond the arc. They hit 20 3's -- compared to the 12 that the Sixers hit -- and they hit those shots at a 50 percent clip. They had five different players hit at least two shots from deep and three other players that hit one. Philadelphia has been a stellar defensive team all season, but they certainly could have done a better job of putting pressure on Milwaukee's shooters. Milwaukee did a good job of stretching Philadelphia's defense and making their big men choose between protecting the paint against drives or getting out on shooters. Brook Lopez hit four 3's, and Bobby Portis went 5-for-5 off of the bench. The Bucks also created space by putting Philadelphia's big men in pick-and-roll action. The Sixers typically play drop coverage in this scenario, and the Bucks exploited that. Philadelphia will have to come up with a better game plan for defending the perimeter for the rematch on Saturday.
Next up: These two teams will remain in Milwaukee and go back at it again on Saturday afternoon.