After the 76ers’ 109-105 overtime loss to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, there was a sense that this was some sort of moral victory.
The Sixers played without four-time All-Star center Joel Embiid, who missed his third straight game because of a bone bruise in his left knee. They played the second of back-to-back home games after Tuesday’s gritty 99-96 win over the New York Knicks. Plus, starting shooting guard Seth Curry left the game for good in the fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle.
After Jrue Holiday hit a three to extend the Bucks’ lead to 91-84 with 52.8 seconds left in regulation, the Sixers fought back to send the game to overtime when Furkham Korkmaz hit a three with 1.1 left in the fourth quarter. There was plenty of fight in the Sixers.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t blow a major opportunity to beat a team that remains in serious contention for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.
If anybody is noticing, the Brooklyn Nets won 14 of 15 games with Wednesday’s 124-115 victory at Indiana. The Nets were without Kevin Durant, who missed his 13th straight game with a hamstring injury, and Kyrie Irving (groin). They overcame a 16-point deficit to win with 57.6 points per game missing behind James Harden’s 40-point triple-double.
In addition, the Bucks made two trades Wednesday that left them with nine available players. What’s more, Milwaukee didn’t seem interested in competing early against the Sixers. Giannis Antetokounmpo attempted four shots in the first half. Four shots for the two-time reigning MVP? He was clearly disengaged.
Even as the Sixers rebuilt their lead to 19 points early in the third quarter, the Bucks showed no sign of life.
”I wasn’t having fun,” Antetokounmpo said postgame.
The fun began after halftime, when he scored 28 of his 32 points. He also taunted the Sixers, taking a seat on the court after hitting a step-back jumper to increase the Bucks’ lead to 105-98 in overtime.
”I was just trying to have fun and enjoy the moment,” he said.
He might regret having fun at the Sixers’ expense. Teams don’t easily forget being shown up, especially on their home court, but it all could have been avoided had the Sixers put the Bucks away in regulation.
In Tuesday’s win over the Knicks and against the Bucks, the Sixers were outscored by 43-17 in fast-break points.
Without the transition game, the Sixers played the last two games running more half-court sets in a preview of postseason basketball. Granted, Embiid can often bail the Sixers out in those half-court situations, but not always.
The Sixers attempted only eight foul shots against the Bucks without Embiid, who averages an NBA-best 11.4 free-throw attempts.
“I didn’t think we got into the paint enough, but I thought we should have gone to the line more,” said coach Doc Rivers, whose team will resume action Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center against Sacramento.
While the Sixers (28-13) can’t win them all, and this ended a season-best six-game win streak, they also can’t afford to give away winnable games to their main competitors.
Instead of stepping on the Bucks and keeping them down, the Sixers allowed them to get up and sit down on their home court.