MILWAUKEE – Ben Simmons' return gave the 76ers an early spark that didn't last.
The Milwaukee Bucks battled back from a 14-point early deficit to take a 123-108 victory Wednesday night at the Fiserv Forum.
The loss dropped the Sixers to 2-3 on the season. This also marked the first time they lost consecutive regular-season games since road losses to Washington Wizards and Miami Heat on Feb. 25-27.
On Wednesday, the Sixers were coming off a 133-132 heartbreaking overtime road loss to the Detroit Pistons from the night before.
The Sixers would have loved for Wednesday night's game to be as competitive. And the belief was that it would be with Simmons returning after missing Tuesday's matchup with lower-back tightness.
But poor three-point shooting, costly turnovers, and defensive woes doomed the visiting team.
The Sixers made 11 of 34 three-pointers (32.4 percent). However, they made just 5 of 26 attempts in the last three quarters.
The Bucks (4-0) also scored 18 points off the Sixers' season-high-tying 16 turnovers. Philly also had a tough time guarding Milwaukee's front-court players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
Antetokounmpo, an All-Star forward, recorded his first triple-double since Feb. 15, 2018 and 10th of his career. The All-Star forward finished with 32 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks, two steals and five turnovers. As a result, he became the first player since former Sixer Wilt Chamberlain in the 1965-66 season to record four-straight 25-point, 15-rebounds games to open the season.
Small forward Middleton added 25 points, while Lopez had 21. The center made 5 of 9 three-pointers.
"There's more we could have done," Simmons said. "Communication [on defense] is one of them, being accountable. Everybody needs to be accountable on the defensive side of things.
"But we are growing, it's a new year. It's a new team."
Simmons said his back felt good, and it showed.
The point guard recorded his second triple-double of the season and 14th of his career with 14 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, one steal and three turnovers. All-Star center Joel Embiid had a team-high 30 points to go with a game-high 19 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two turnovers. He has recorded a double-double in all five games.
Meanwhile, JJ Redick added 19 points off the bench. Dario Saric had 15 point but graded out at minus-16. Robert Covington (eight points) had a game-worst minus-26.
Simmons told the Inquirer and Daily News 45 minutes before the game that he was going to play. The news wasn't surprising, based on his two pregame workouts.
The first one was around three hours before the game. The second one was around 90 minutes later, during which he worked up a sweat while doing exercises, hitting jumpers, driving to the lane and finishing with dunks a couple of times.
Tuesday night's contest marked the first game he missed since being sidelined on Nov. 25 with a left-elbow injury.
Simmons immediately had an impact on the game. He assisted on Saric's three-pointer on the game's first possession. Then his driving layup gave the Sixers a 7-3 advantage 1 minute, 49 seconds into the game.
He went on to score four of his team's next nine points and assisted on a Markelle Fultz basket during that stretch. Simmons had six points, five rebounds, and three assists by the first time he was subbed out of the game with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
While on the bench, Simmons sat on an elevated cushion and had an heating pad on his back. He wasn't needed for the rest of the quarter. The Sixers ended the quarter up, 34-22, while he remained on the bench. Simmons, Embiid, and Redick all had six points each, and the Sixers shot 75 percent (6-for-8) on three-pointers over the first 12 minutes. The Bucks, however, weren't as fortunate, making just one of 11 three-pointers in the quarter.
Simmons re-entered the game with 9:43 left in the second quarter. But it really didn't matter.
Riding Antetokounmpo and Lopez, the Bucks got back into the game and went on to build a 50-44 lead with 6:27 before intermission.
Lopez made all four of his three-point attempts during that time, scoring 12 points.
"That pretty much gave them the lead the whole game," Redick said.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo added seven points during that stretch.
The Sixers, however, responded with a 7-2 run to close the gap to one point (52-51) as Redick made three consecutive foul shots with 5:16 left in the quarter.
The Bucks pushed their lead back up to eight points. However, the Sixers got back into the game as they had before. this time, a Redick three-pointer closed the gap to two points (64-62) with 1:21 before the break.
Unfazed, Milwaukee closed out the half on a 7-2 run to take a 71-64 advantage into the locker room. Milwaukee also benefited from improved three-point shooting in the second quarter, making eight of 13.
"They're hard to guard the way they are playing right now," Redick said of the Bucks. "They have Giannis and pretty much for shooters at all times on the floor, which creates decisions you have to make and they are hard decisions.