Sixers vs. Bucks: After Tyrese Maxey suffers left foot injury, Joel Embiid leads Sixers to win

Sixers vs. Bucks: After Tyrese Maxey suffers left foot injury, Joel Embiid leads Sixers to win

The Sixers lost Tyrese Maxey to injury but beat the Bucks on Friday night to move above .500 (8-7) for the first time this season.

After posting 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting and five assists, Maxey was ruled out at halftime with a left foot injury, per a Sixers official. (More on Maxey below.)

The Sixers still pulled out a gutsy, 110-102 win at Wells Fargo Center. Joel Embiid led them with 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Tobias Harris (left hip soreness), James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Furkan Korkmaz (left knee effusion) and Jaden Springer (right quadriceps strain) were all out.

Milwaukee was down Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews, Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles.

The Sixers will finish their back-to-back Saturday night in Philadelphia against the Timberwolves. Here are observations on their victory over the Bucks:

Embiid, Antetokounmpo bring their best early

With the Sixers playing after a four-day stretch between games, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Embiid took a while to rediscover the rhythm and brilliance of his 59-point performance Sunday. Fortunately for the Sixers, he looked exactly the same out of the gates.

Antetokounmpo also had a very strong start, driving in for an emphatic dunk and putting the Bucks up 7-2 with a pull-up jumper. As for Embiid, the Sixers emphasized early touches against Brook Lopez in the middle of the floor. While Lopez guarded Embiid well when the Sixers lost in their home opener to Milwaukee, so much of Embiid’s success always seems to hinge on whether he makes comfortable shots.

On Friday, he recorded the Sixers’ first seven points, knotting the game at 7-all with a top-of-the-key three-pointer. He finally got a bit of scoring support from Maxey, whose wing three capped an 8-0 run.

Embiid also kept the defensive highlights rolling in the first quarter. After Antetokounmpo found an angle to drive left on PJ Tucker, Embiid shifted over to reject him at the rim. The Sixers capitalized with a Maxey layup in transition. Antetokounmpo is tremendous at placing constant pressure on the opposition and ripping away any potential momentum, though. He pulled up for a long-range jumper and sunk it, giving the Bucks a 15-12 edge.

Ultimately, Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee managed to sixteen a 13-point advantage late in the first. Some of that boiled down to Embiid and Antetokounmpo’s respective production, but the Sixers’ initial struggles with the Greek Freak on the bench stood out. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers used a lineup with Embiid surrounded by Shake Milton, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle and Georges Niang. Former Sixer George Hill made a three over Milton, who was called for traveling on the Sixers’ ensuing possession.

The Bucks began 12 for 18 from the floor and 5 for 9 from long distance, meaning the Sixers had to play from behind for their second straight meeting with Milwaukee.

Milton (15 points, six assists) had another rough stretch with Embiid sitting early in the second period. After Hill stole the ball from him in the open floor, Milton dropped his head and the Bucks pounced on the fast-break chance, getting a Jrue Holiday layup to go ahead 39-28.

Harden’s absence has placed a spotlight on several of the Sixers’ weaker areas, and the team’s second-unit guard play has often been a concern the past couple of weeks. Maxey’s injury now puts even further pressure on Milton and Melton. Korkmaz did a light workout following the Sixers’ shootaround Friday morning and called himself “day-to-day.”

Maxey hurt at end of tremendous half

The Sixers’ defense had been a strength lately, but that certainly didn’t carry over into the first half.

Their starting lineup was a solid defensive group on paper; Danuel House Jr. and Melton played alongside Embiid, Maxey and Tucker. However, the Bucks’ size and rebounding posed predictable issues. The 6-foot-11 Bobby Portis had two second-chance layups within the first six minutes.

Tucker picked up his second foul on a moving screen with 1:26 left in the first quarter, though Rivers kept him in the game. While the Sixers didn’t string together many stops with Embiid out, Maxey did an excellent job confidently creating offense and scoring at all three levels. He made an impressive step-back jump shot over Antetokounmpo in the corner and reached 23 points late in the second on an open, after-timeout triple. When he’s aggressive and clear in his role, points tend to pile up fast for the 22-year-old.

Maxey’s game ended abruptly. He was crowded on a drive with 1:36 to go in the second quarter and came up limping. Though he tried to walk it off, taking a couple of steps into the crowd, it was immediately obvious that his pain wasn’t going to disappear. Maxey split his two free throws before subbing out.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that X-rays were negative on Maxey’s foot and he’ll have an MRI on Saturday.

Despite Maxey’s fantastic play, the Sixers trailed by seven points at halftime in large part due to their sloppiness. There’s nothing wrong with a few turnovers related to pushing the pace, but the Sixers gave the ball away carelessly several times in the final few minutes before intermission. Melton committed one of the team’s 11 first-half giveaways on a long, ill-advised pass intended for House.

Of course, once Maxey was ruled out, his status loomed as a matter larger than the game’s result. The Sixers know they can survive with an extremely Embiid-centric style of play, but they’d obviously prefer not to play without their starting backcourt for an extended stretch.

Finding an (unusual) way down stretch

The Sixers started the third quarter well without Maxey and took a 69-67 lead on an Embiid mid-range jumper.

The minutes when Embiid sat were more adventurous than ever; Rivers used Paul Reed-Embiid lineups in both the second and third quarters. With 2:37 left in the third, he went to a Reed-Montrezl Harrell frontcourt and asked Reed to guard Antetokounmpo. That decision yielded great results at first when Reed stopped the two-time MVP in isolation and pulled down the defensive board. Georges Niang (17 points) eventually drained a three-pointer to give the Sixers an 84-77 lead. A Milton runner and a buzzer-beating House jumper were other important baskets during that unconventional Embiid-less stint.

The tricky calls on Rivers’ plate increased with Embiid out. He understandably removed Thybulle about a minute and a half after Reed entered in the third quarter; that’s not a duo that will generally be conducive to efficient offense. Thybulle, who missed the Sixers’ last two practices with an ankle injury, only received four minutes.

Following a couple of Tucker-Harrell frontcourt minutes early in the fourth, the Sixers were up 92-90 and subbed Embiid back into the game. Antetokounmpo’s woes at the foul line were quite helpful in the Sixers having a lead at that stage. He went 4 for 15 in the game and the home crowd loved every miss (as well as the escalating “Bricken for Chicken” rewards).

Compared to Sunday night’s win over the Jazz, the Sixers’ supporting cast did a much better job of chipping in offense around Embiid in the fourth quarter.

On a key sequence, Melton skied for a defensive rebound and then threw the ball ahead of Milton. With Embiid noticeably wiped out, he didn’t cross half court until about 15 seconds remained on the shot clock. He swung the ball to Niang, who drove past Portis and made an and-one layup. Next time down, Embiid assisted a big corner three by Melton and the Sixers grabbed a 102-99 lead.

Embiid’s mid-range game is always a nice option down the stretch, too. He buried back-to-back jumpers to extend the Sixers’ lead to seven points. Then, with Milwaukee determined to make someone else beat them, he declined dribbling into a pull-up jumper and instead found Milton for a wide-open layup.

If there was any doubt that he’d turned in another MVP-level performance, Embiid nailed another jumper over Lopez.

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