In what many predicted as a potential Eastern Conference finals matchup, the Milwaukee Bucks made a statement against the Philadelphia 76ers, cruising to a 119-98 win at Fiserv Forum.
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered another monster game, pouring in 31 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists, for his 45th double-double of the season as the Bucks move to 48-8 on the season.
The 76ers now sit at 35-22 on the season and 9-20 on the road.
Here are the key takeaways from today's game:
Antetokounmpo and Middleton show out
The 76ers had no answer for the Bucks' All-Star duo who combined for 56 points, 26 rebounds and 10 assists, outplaying the Philly starters on their own.
After struggling against the 76ers on Christmas Day, Antetokounmpo righted the ship, consistently putting the 76ers defence under pressure with him relentlessly attacking in the paint in an action-packed 29 minutes on court.
With his performance tonight, Giannis Antetokounmpo has passed Stephen Curry for the most games in a season with 30 points in under 30 minutes.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 23, 2020
Giannis did it for the 8th time tonight vs the 76ers. pic.twitter.com/HoiwLWYAhD
Meanwhile, Middleton turned in an efficient performance, recording 25 points and nine rebounds, shooting 10-of-15 from the field and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc
Bucks dominate third quarter
Despite a poor shooting performance in the first half, especially from three (4-of-19) the 76ers only trailed by six points at the break and from there it was all Bucks.
Antetokounmpo scored the first seven points of the period as the Bucks quickly built a 13-point lead, eventually outscoring the 76ers 37-23 in the quarter. Antetokoumpo scored 12 of his 31 in the quarter.
The Bucks were clinical on defence, triggering several fast-break opportunities and they made the most of their open looks, shooting 11-of-15 from the field as they eventually took a commanding 93-73 lead into the final frame.
Joel Embiid picked up his third and fourth fouls early in the quarter as the Bucks seized control with the big man on the bench.
Back-to-back buckets on Embiid.#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/qxRWNXF47o- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 23, 2020
76ers starters fail to fire
With Ben Simmons leaving the game in the first quarter, the 76ers offence struggled to find any rhythm, esposing their limitations without a clear cut backup point guard option.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Embiid had 12 points in the second, largely coming at the free-throw line. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, but shot 5-of-18 from the field, adding four turnovers.
He's now gone 11-of-44 in his last two games against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
While he had his struggles, his teammates couldn't fill the void, with Tobias Harris (11 points on 3-of-10 shooting), Josh Richardson (nine points on 4-of-10) and Glenn Robinson III (six points on 3-of-8) failing to find their range.
In his new role off the bench, Al Horford wasn't much better, finishing with three points and seven rebounds on 1-of-7 shooting. Spacing is an obvious concern for Philly, but Horford must find ways to impact the game in his usual spots in the paint or on the elbow, instead of above the break.
Six of his seven field goal attempts came from the three-point line (1-of-6), and while he is a reliable enough shooter from deep, teams will live with him letting it fly.
The 76ers have now dropped six straight games on the road and 12 of their past 14.
Injury concern for Simmons?
The 76ers will be sweating on the health of point guard Ben Simmons, who exited the game early in the first quarter.
Simmons appeared to re-aggravate the back injury which kept him out of the 76ers' last game against the Brooklyn Nets.
The play when Ben Simmons got injured pic.twitter.com/zuxcUILqVw- Jonathan Tannenwald (@jtannenwald) February 23, 2020
It was initially reported that he would go to the locker room throughout the game for treatment on his back, however early in the second quarter, it was announced that he would not return for the remainder of the game.
Ben Simmons will not return. He irritated his lower back. #Sixers- Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) February 23, 2020
Simmons left the game with five points, two rebounds, one assist, one block, and one turnover in just five minutes played.
The 76ers will look to bounce back when they take on the Atlanta Hawks at home on Monday, while the Bucks visit the Washington Wizards.
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