The irony of the Sixers’ big comeback win over the Bucks

The irony of the Sixers’ big comeback win in Milwaukee originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

No, it’s not like that The Sixers achieved the best victory of the regular season.

“When you play against good teams, you can’t relax,” Joel Embiid he said last weekend after the team squandered a 15-point lead in the third quarter The Celtics. “The match lasts 48 minutes.”

He made a similar point after the Sixers fell to the Heat on Monday.

“To win, we’re going to have to be almost perfect,” Embiid said. “We can’t have nights like these last couple of games. We have to be locked in the whole game from the start.”

In the big picture, it all looks good. However, the Sixers defied logic on Saturday ending the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak by erasing an 18-point deficit on the road.

Rather ironically, they were defective everywhere in Milwaukee. Embiid and James Harden shot a combined 3 for 13 from the floor in the second quarter. In the first half, the Bucks’ bench seemed physical, playoff-hardened and completely superior to the Sixers’ second unit. Basic faults on the left Grayson Allen with unquestioned 3-pointers deep into his 20-point third quarter.

The Sixers’ luck wasn’t good either. Tobias Harris (sore left calf) and PJ Tucker (back spasms) both left the game with injuries. Tucker told reporters in Milwaukee that he had been “fighting back cramps the last two days and today he just went crazy,” according to Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire.

With Harris and Tucker excluded, Embiid (31 points) and Tyrese Maxey (26 points) sat down at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Trailing by 14, the Sixers used Harden along with four players off the bench against an opponent that had not lost in the month of February and they had a league-best 105.8 defensive rating during their streak.

George Niang he’s not the type to care about all that. Niang, who shot just 22.9 percent from three in his last 10 contests, hit four massive 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the fourth. He realized a long time ago that if he’s on the floor, it’s necessary to make jumpers, and he continues to believe that they will go in.

“I’ll tell you this: If I doubted myself and stopped shooting, I might find myself on the bench,” Niang said after hitting four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter in a Christmas Day win over The Knicks. “So tell me: Would you accept the alternative?

“I will keep shooting. … The guys on this team are great, whether it’s Tyrese, De’Anthony (Melton), Joel, Tobias, James — telling me to keep shooting and it’s going to fall. I think we all know what kind of work we put in to be successful. I don’t see myself stopping filming anytime soon.”

Embiid hasn’t wavered from his stance this season believing in the underlying game and believing that everything will work out in the end. Although Brook Lopez was strong against Embiid on both ends of the floor, the Sixers All-Star big man had 10 assists and just one turnover.

Watching Embiid celebrate Saturday night got me thinking after the Sixers’ late game loss against Boston. He drew a double team and dished the ball to Harden, whose potential game-winning 3-pointer bounced off the back rim and out.

“We followed the game plan and got a good shot,” Embiid said. “They came and doubled, and I made the right play. I just missed it. He will make the next one.”

Harden really made a bunch of big ones against Milwaukee. He was fantastic back in October when the Sixers faced the Bucks in the opener, recording 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in a narrow loss. It was intriguing to see that night Harden’s confidence and mid-range prowess. Saturday was mostly about Harden being a great version of the three-point, free-throw offensive machine he’s been for more than a decade.

He played the entire fourth quarter with a 38-point, 10-assist, nine-rebound performance and looked like a glaring All-Star omission. AND a long time, the “must have him” three that cut the Sixers’ deficit to one point was a highlight reel, but what really stood out was Harden’s ability to run a highly efficient offense, clearly untouched by fatigue. The Sixers scored 127.9 points per 100 possessions on Saturday Glass cleaningwhich is in the 99th percentile. Their half-court offense against top 10 defenses is now No. 4 in the NBA behind the Celtics, Mavs and Nuggets.

Harden doesn’t routinely sack defenders and draw fouls like he did during his MVP years with the Rockets, but he went 7 for 7 at the foul line in the fourth quarter and had plenty of tackles down the stretch. After a 5-for-9 night from three-point range, he is at a career-best 40.5 percent.

Crucially, Paul Reed converted one of Harden’s misses in the fourth quarter into a three-pointer. The Sixers have been at or near the bottom of the league in offensive rebounding rate all season, but Reed and Jalen McDaniels attacked the glass at games where Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were a little too focused on whether the star would go down. McDaniels’ comeback was both fierce and important.

45-18 Dollars they are still a better, more consistent team than the 41-22 Sixers, who will conclude their five-game road trip by playing Pacers on Monday and Timberwolves Tuesday.

It’s still true to say the Sixers haven’t put it all together. You can look at it in whatever light you want, but the bottom line is that the Sixers somehow just beat the Bucks.

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