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April 13, 2015

Sixers succumb to suffocating second-half Bucks’ defense, 107-97

Michael Carter-Williams scored 30 points on 11-17 shooting in his return to Philadelphia

Sixers NBA

The Sixers fell to old friend Michael Carter-Williams and the playoff-bound Milwaukee Bucks by a score of 107-97 on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center. Here’s what I saw:

The skinny

I’m tempted to say that the Bucks flipped the switch in the second half, but it was more like when Basher knocks out all of Las Vegas’ electricity in “Ocean’s Eleven.” The Sixers dropped 58 points in the first half, and I was pretty surprised at how consistently they were able to get into the lane against a team that sports the league’s fourth-ranked defensive efficiency and had previously given them fits.

Then the script completely flipped after halftime, as the Bucks locked the Sixers down in what felt like a maximum-security prison. Getting to the hole was pretty much impossible, and if the Sixers were fortunate enough to make it there, at least four long arms were swarming and altering that shot. The Sixers only managed an ugly 10-42 (23.8 percent) from the field in the final 24 minutes and committed 18 of their Wells Fargo Center record (!!!) 30 turnovers.

“We didn’t do a very good job of reacting to playing a crowd,” Brett Brown said after the game. “I give them credit on some pick-and-roll stuff that we did and we just didn’t move the ball. We didn’t share the ball that well.”

Offensive observations

1. Robert Covington committed an astounding 10 turnovers, but he was also the only Sixer that finished with a positive plus-minus because he had some excellent moments attacking the basket. A couple of times in the first half, he completely shook the Greek Freak out of his shoes. Covington finished with 25 points and that includes a 12-13 performance from the charity stripe.

2. Contrary to what Brown said, they did share the ball very well in the first half. For the game, the Sixers finished with 22 assists on 32 field goals. I think what Brown was referring to with the “pick-and-roll stuff” is a lot of the first-half success they had attacking at the top of the key. A few months ago, I wrote in detail about the Bucks’ defense, which thrives when they can keep you on one side of the floor. I thought that happened a lot more in the second half, obviously.

3. Milwaukee’s length from 1-5 is pretty crazy, and it’s their overall blueprint. The Sixers found a lot of trouble finishing over top of that length around the rim. Henry Sims went 3-13, and he along with JaKarr Sampson fought back a little bit out of frustration in the second half. The two teams had to be separated a couple of times.

Defensive deductions

1. I’m writing about Carter-Williams for tomorrow, but anecdotally this might be the best high-volume shooting game I saw from him since the opener against Miami last year. MCW punished the much smaller Ish Smith in the post early, scoring three baskets on him on the first half.

“If you looked at his shots the last three games, he’s had three shots out of that environment against Brooklyn and the Knicks,” Brown said before the game of his former point guard on the block. “If you look at his passes out of that environment, he had a lot. And so the balance of coming and letting him pick the gym apart because you’ve overreacted or over-rotated versus, ‘Wow, he’s 6’6” and Ish isn’t’ and now you’ve got to come just because he’s really scoring, that’ll be a game feel, a game read.”

It was a tough predicament, but the game read early was to make him a scorer and Carter-Williams made the Sixers pay dearly.

2. It wasn’t like all of Carter-Williams’ damage was in the post. He got out in transition and even knocked down a few jumpers. Great, efficient night for the former Sixer in his return to Philly:

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There were a few absolute beauties in this one, including what might be the dunk of the year against the Sixers. OVERALL GRADE: A


Humans aren’t supposed to be able to do this, but they call Giannis the Greek Freak for a reason. He sometimes seriously reminds me of when Michael Jordan stretches his arm all the way from midcourt at the end of “Space Jam.” Grade: A


JaKarr Monster Putback Slam, Part One. Grade: B


JaKarr Monster Putback Slam, Part Deux. Poor Jerryd Bayless. Grade: A-

Stat stuff

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Alright, I might’ve mailed this one in a little bit — It’s Michael Carter-Williams’ advanced numbers via Basketball Reference, by the way — but I already talked about why the Bucks’ defense and the Sixers’ offense are match made in turnover heaven the last time these two teams played. As for MCW, it’s good to see that his shooting numbers recovered a little bit from his horrific start to the season.

By the way, Carter-Williams’ 30 points are the most he has ever scored in this building, and let's just say that it wasn't for lack of trying before tonight.

Player of the game

Just for old time’s sake, I thought we’d include our good buddy into the POTG race one more time. To be fair, he was the best player on the floor tonight. Post-Trade Deadline Standings: Noel 10, Covington 7, Smith 6, Carter-Williams 5, Thompson 4, Grant 3, Robinson 3, LRMAM 1, Sampson 1, Richardson 1, and Canaan 1.

MCW Update

As someone who already has his hands full trying to keep track of the Philly sports scene, I don’t have a lot of free time to watch the Milwaukee Bucks. Luckily, I know of a group of people that do: the fine folks at Brew Hoop. I follow a couple of Bucks fans on Twitter, and from what I’ve seen they might be the most level-headed fan base in American sports. It’s pretty incredible.

Naturally, I was curious about MCW’s play in Milwaukee, so I sought out their opinion in lieu of a pregame notes section. Here’s what I got from Dan Sinclair:

It's pretty tempting for a lot of Bucks fans to look at the Bucks' post-deadline swoon and attribute a large part of it to the Knight/MCW swap. Knight was obviously playing very well and had become something of a fan favorite, though I think some among us were still worried about whether he'd be worth keeping as an RFA.

MCW is a pretty easy target given how different he appears at first glance compared to Knight. Up until very recently he'd been shooting the ball about as poorly as ever and the offense in general just seemed to lack even the marginal spark it had under Knight. So even if people didn't outright dislike him as a player, it was easy to just deflect confusion or frustration with the trade at MCW himself. The strange thing is there isn't a ton of evidence to suggest the Bucks have struggled just because of him. His on/off numbers are decent-to-good, especially when he's paired with Khris Middleton. And he's had a couple of big games lately that have probably bought him some goodwill.

I think Bucks fans are generally just so attuned to poor-shooting point guards after Jennings and Monta and early-Knight that they're all totally willing, maybe even eager, to write a guy off if he's inefficient. And that's probably fair, because even those people who like MCW have varying levels of concern over whether a guy who can't shoot can be a successful point guard, especially considering the Bucks so-so spacing as constructed.

There's probably more optimism among fans than in recent memory, so the hope that Jason Kidd, Point Guard Whisperer can turn him into a star is keeping some people going. Even if the playoffs are a fun distraction, I think fans and the organization are still totally aware that the future is what's important, and people are generally willing to accept that MCW doesn't have to be the answer right away, or maybe even at all, if he can at least buy Milwaukee a little more time to get things settled.

I very much appreciate Dan’s insights. Go check out Brew Hoop sometime if you’re interested about MCW (the post he linked is great) or Giannis, and really, who isn’t interested about Giannis?  

Tweet of the night

Nice.

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