Sporting News- The Bucks entered the Wells Fargo Center with the best record in the NBA and this season’s leading MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 76ers didn’t care about any of that.
Philadelphia ran Milwaukee off the floor Wednesday afternoon, cruising to a 121-109 win behind a terrific performance from Joel Embiid, who finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Nearly every Sixers player shot well from the outside, as Philly went 21-of-44 from 3-point range (47.7 percent) against the league’s No. 1 defense.
Milwaukee never had a chance to overcome a significant deficit. The Bucks found themselves down by 21 points after only 24 minutes of action, the team’s largest halftime deficit under coach Mike Budenholzer. Antetokounmpo struggled from the field all game long, and his supporting cast couldn’t pick up the slack.
Here are three takeaways from the Sixers’ Christmas Day destruction of the Bucks.
This is what peak Joel Embiid looks like
The All-Star center set the tone early with 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the first half. He scored in the paint, from midrange and beyond the arc.
Even more impressive than Embiid’s scoring output was his defense. He consistently bothered Antetokounmpo at the rim and forced him into difficult attempts, no small feat considering “The Greak Freak” had averaged 31.0 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting prior to Wednesday’s loss.
These stampedes in transition usually result in easy dunks for Antetokounmpo. That wasn’t the case with Embiid waiting in the paint.
“I wanna be Defensive Player of the Year, and I feel like tonight I showed it,” Embiid said after the game.
Embiid was simply unstoppable on offense and a brick wall on defense. He carried himself like the best player on the planet.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a very bad Christmas Day
As mentioned above, Antetokounmpo struggled against Embiid, scoring just 18 points on 8-of-27 shooting from the field. While Giannis has made great strides with his jump shot, he was 0-of-7 on 3-pointers against the 76ers. His defenders were willing to back off and wait for him in the paint.
To make matters worse, Giannis only took four trips to the free throw line, a major drop from his season average of 10.5. He didn’t get a friendly whistle, and his frustration boiled over in the fourth quarter when he got smacked in the face by Sixers guard Josh Richardson and didn’t hear a whistle on the play — until he later received a technical foul for arguing with a referee.
But while Philadelphia defended Antetokounmpo over four quarters better than any team has this season, let’s not use one national TV dud to label Giannis and the Bucks as frauds. He’s allowed to have an off game, and you better believe this one will stick in his mind until he faces the 76ers again.
Sixers + Shooting = Scary
Philly isn’t known for its shooting prowess, but the 76ers burned down the nets in this contest.
They started off 6-of-13 from 3-point range in the first quarter and 11-of-22 in the first half. They didn’t cool off down the stretch, tying a franchise record with 21 3-point buckets as a team, including a team-high five makes from Tobias Harris.
The Sixers’ spacing will never be perfect as long as Embiid and Ben Simmons are sharing the court, but just enough shooting from guys like Harris, Josh Richardson and Furkan Korkmaz can change the entire offense and open up the floor.