Sixers-Bucks takeaways: Joel Embiid’s conditioning, Shake Milton’s playmaking and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foul shooting stand out
This is the second time that Embiid has averaged at least 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks over a five-game span. Milton stepped up after Tyrese Maxey went down.
Joel Embiid’s conditioning no longer is a deterrent following extended time away from basketball. Shake Milton has matured as a passer. And foul shooting remains Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Achilles heel.
Below is my look at three things that stood out during the 76ers 110-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid in shape
Not too long ago, Embiid would return to the court out of shape after missing time due to injuries and ailments. That’s no longer the case.
The Sixers center finished with game highs of 32 points and eight assists to go with 11 rebounds and three blocks against the Bucks (11-4). That enabled him to average 38.4 points, 11 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 blocks in five games back after being sidelined a week with the flu.
This is the second time that Embiid has averaged at least 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks over a five-game span. Kevin Durant, who did it once, joined Embiid as the only players to accomplish that feat since blocks were recorded in 1976.
“The points don’t matter,” Embiid said of the Sixers (8-7) going 4-1 in his return. “The wins are the ones that matter. I’m just happy that since I came back we are winning.”
But a lot of his dominance has to do with his improved conditioning. Embiid has been at his best late in games. That wasn’t the case after he returned from extended breaks in season’s past.
“You can say that,” Embiid said. “It’s funny if I would have had a bad game the past few nights, probably y’all would have been like, ‘Conditionally this and that.’ But since we’re winning and I’m playing so well, there’s no question about that.”
Embiid said he can’t control the narrative. What he can control is the work he puts in and how much he’s invested in the Sixers and his teammates.
While Embiid tried to downplay things, it’s obvious that he’s in better shape than in season’s past.
Next man up
Milton said he turned on the next-man-up switch after Tyrese Maxey left the game late in the second quarter with a left foot injury.
That was a good thing for the Sixers, as he scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half on 4-for-7 shooting. The game also appeared to slow down for the combination guard, who did a solid job of running the offense.
He finished the game with six assists, three turnovers, and was a game-best plus-17 in a season-high 31 minutes, 11 seconds. Milton recorded four assists and just one turnover after intermission.
“I think it’s a read for myself,” he said. “I’m always going to come in the game and be aggressive. That’s just who I am. But also reading the game and knowing what the game needs. Coming off pick-and-rolls, seeing Joel in the pocket or fast break, I see G [Georges Niang] to my left. So I’m going to hit him, and I know he’s going to get an open shot.
“It’s just more so about reading the game and not forcing anything because at the end of the day good thing will come from that.”
Horrid foul shooting
Antetokounmpo had his worst foul shooting performance of the season, shooting 4 of 15. The two-time MVP struggled mightily in the second half, making just 2 of 10.
His poor free-throw shooting really doomed the Bucks in the second half of what was a winnable game.
“Any time he has a little bit of adversity, he’s going to work on it, he’s going to get better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I’m sure there’s a level of frustration for him. I think he’s got to get to a good mental space, stick with his routine, stick with what he’s doing. He’s proven he can make free throws, and he’ll work through it. That’s the exciting thing for me. He’s such a worker, and he’ll work through it.”
Best performance: This goes to Embiid, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and one block after intermission.
Worst performance: This goes to Jrue Holiday. The former Sixer had 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting, but missed all four of his three-pointers. He also committed five turnovers after missing the past four games with a sprained right ankle.