Late in the third quarter on Thursday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo took over the role of playmaker, helping the Milwaukee Bucks build a double-digit lead and draw boos from the restless Philadelphia 76ers crowd. Heading into the fourth quarter in full control, the Bucks looked poised for a comfortable season opener win.
Five minutes later the script was completely reversed. With Giannis on the bench, James Harden led the Sixers offense to tie the game, and suddenly the Wells Fargo Center was armed. The rest of the game was pretty ugly back and forth, but the Bucks ultimately won him 90-88. This is largely thanks to his 3-pointer at the last minute of Wesley Matthews. An additional point that didn’t fly under Milwaukee’s radar is that even with the win, that game was yet another reminder of the importance of Khris Middleton to the Bucks. He has missed the series and the first few weeks of the season while recovering from wrist surgery.
In many ways, it was a repeat of last season’s second-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics. Giannis continued to show why he was the best player in the league, but there was no one to help carry the offensive load, especially when Drew Holiday shot 15 to 2. The Bucks Giannis was plus-13 minus in his 36 minutes. 11 in the 12 minutes he didn’t play. Overall, the non-Giannis Bucks were off the field 25 of 68.
Even when Giannis was on the court in the fourth quarter, the offensive was rough. They scored 10 points in his final 10 minutes and in that stretch he turned the ball around 5 times. His two biggest baskets, a layup on Grayson Allen and a clutch 3-pointer on Matthews, were greatly aided by the Sixers’ missed decisions on his defense.
Similarly, with his two under 90 seconds remaining, they performed a high pick-and-roll with Allen and Giannis, the former trying to make it all the way to the rim. Allen scored on that possession after Harden fell asleep on the offensive rebound, but the point stands. Middleton-Giannis pick and roll is much better. The Bucks are still winning and as long as Giannis is there they will be one of the top teams in the league. It was a reminder that we needed Middleton to reach our potential.
Too often the offense stagnate, Holiday can’t solve the problem alone, and that’s not his forte. Or you just got the look you want, not for your favorite player. Towards the end of the fourth quarter, another Sixers error left Jevon his carter wide open but missed his 3 from the corner. Another day, it might be Middleton, or Pat Connaughton, who was injured in that game.
- The Bucks’ season-opening win over the 76ers is yet another reminder that they need Khris Middleton to reach their full potential.
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