The Sixers (36-29) visited the Milwaukee Bucks (42-24) on Thursday. Both teams wanted to rebound from losses on Tuesday. The Sixers hung in all night, but the offense stalled down the stretch while the Bucks got to play by a different set of rules and eventually pulled away, 114-105.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who remains out as he recovers from a procedure to address a meniscus injury in his left knee.

De'Anthony Melton has bone stress in his lumbar spine and was not available. Robert Covington remained out with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Terq Smith is on a two-way G League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was out.

Nick Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Mo Bamba.

The Bucks were without the services of Khris Middleton, who has a sprained left ankle.

Malik Beasley and MarJon Beauchamp both missed the game with back spasms.

Doc Rivers started Damian Lillard, Patrick Beverley, Jae Crowder, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez.


- If Harris is going to be stuck in the mud as a scorer and shooter - and slow the entire rhythm of the offense down as soon as the ball lands in his hands - he has to function as a connector when he has the power to dictate the possession. That means finding cutters, making the swing pass to bridge the strong side to the weak side, and generally just finding the open man. And, of course, that all comes with the one challenge of making decent passes that are not so obviously coming that the defense has ample time to read and intercept the ball out of the air.

That is the bare minimum he can do on offense when his own scoring isn't there. And, to Harris' credit, the normally mediocre passer managed to be that glue guy. His teammates didn't cash in on all the looks he fed them, but Harris got off the ball when he saw the openings. It wasn't always quick, and I'm not sure the passes he made were even always the first reads available. But, rather than dribble himself into trouble, force junk that had no chance of panning out, or throw the hot potato to teammates who had nowhere to go with the shot clock winding down, Harris shut down his own touch as soon as he knew he had nothing going and got it to someone else.

And, as is often the case with bulky forwards, he was quick to act as a screener and roll into space in the middle of the floor. It wasn't in hopes of being led to the rim for a finish. Rather, Harris looked to catch and gun to the other side of the floor to take advantage of the help shaded away from Sixers in positions to shoot.

Again, more or less the status quo of late in Harris' scoring column in the first half. But, he actually tried to do other things to help his team in the first quarter. That couldn't be said in Tuesday's loss to the Knicks.

- There was maybe one player to put on the uniform this season who didn't consistently say the things that made you think he was about all the right stuff. That player is gone. While Paul Reed does all of the tasks on the court that lend to a player being about the right things, he certainly made it clear that he felt being removed from the starting lineup was a demotion.

Well, he may think that, but if he keeps playing this well, it's going to be difficult to dispute the move. Not only has Reed settled in as one of the team's more reliable shooters when his feet are set, but he's the poster of effort play. When he can get inside position, he comes down with the rebound. When he's disciplined enough to keep his arms straight up, he's as fine a backup rim-protector as you'll find in the league.

Reed anchored a defense that kept Antetokounmpo largely at bay in the first half, which is extremely difficult to do when the Bucks star is afforded six steps after he picks up his dribble and every benefit of the doubt at the rim. Yet, Reed did his part to get his hands specifically on the ball and wall off the interior when Antetokounmpo attacked the paint.

Reed tied him up in the restricted area and sent him away at the rim, and didn't think for one second that his job was done when Antetokounmpo was deterred. He lurked around the basket as the Sixers fought to put the Bucks on the ropes in the first half, stuffing drivers as a roaming rim-protector when they got within layup distance of the hoop.

- This was certainly a game that Cam Payne had circled on the schedule. He dazzled in the second quarter, quite literally carrying the Sixers' offense for an extended stretch that saw them extend their lead to double digits. He wasn't just on target from beyond the arc, although his threes weren't touching the rim. Payne had a couple of ridiculous finishes at the basket, turning garbage into cold after the Bucks chased him off the three-point line.


- As much praise as I thought Harris deserved for his passing in the first quarter, it is flatly unacceptable that there were possessions in which he drove towards the rim, picked his dribble up, pivoted, and passed out of the position he was in. On one hand, that's the defensive equities of Lopez and Antetokounmpo talking. On the other hand, you can't break out of that mental slump if you don't shoot the ball or play aggressively. Ben Simmons being Ben Simmons never got the Sixers anywhere; Harris being Ben Simmons damn sure won't, either.

- Speaking of things that are unacceptable, the way the league allows its officiating crews to call Bucks games is a spoof of the sport. If you find yourselves rewinding plays to see if your eyes saw the number of steps Antetokounmpo took correctly the first time, you're not alone. How about the number of shoves? Anything to say for the way he illegally discards smaller defenders?

The contrast in how they officiated Maxey makes it all the more laughable. Philadelphia's star guard was sent sliding across the floor and into the stanchion a number of times in this game because of contact levied upon him at the rim. He took a single free throw in the first half.

Maxey is through two games after missing four in a row with a concussion. I'm not at all suggesting he should be officiated more favorably because of that. What I am suggesting is that players feel empowered to be more physical with him because he does not get the benefit of the whistle. Ask Crowder, who held on to Maxey's shoulder after the play was blown dead on a possession in the first half, resulting in a tangle-up and a technical foul on Crowder. The proper penalty was doled out. But, why is a player holding onto an opponent's shoulder after the whistle? Why is he holding on to the guy's shoulder in the first place?

Probably because he feels empowered by the way in which that particular player is not protected. It's fine that the league wants to give defenders more freedom to help curtail some of the inflated scoring numbers. You also have an obligation to protect players, and Maxey takes a hell of a lot of contact that goes without penalty.

The Sixers (36-30) will host the Charlotte Hornets (17-49) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus.

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Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig/Townsquare Media

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