Early Saturday afternoon, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers joked he’d rather spend time talking about his alma mater and good friend, new Marquette University coach Shaka Smart.
At the time, Ben Simmons had already been ruled out again with an illness and Paul Reed was placed in the league’s health and safety protocols while in Milwaukee. About an hour later, Rivers had to scratch All-Star center Joel Embiid from the starting lineup against the Milwaukee Bucks with shoulder soreness.
Having dinner with Smart on Friday night was likely the highlight of Rivers’ return to his old stomping grounds as the Bucks won the sleepy matinee, 132-94 at Fiserv Forum.
It gave Milwaukee (37-22) a season sweep of Philadelphia (39-21) and pulled the Bucks within one game in the loss column of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers have lost a season-high four straight games. The 94 points tied the fewest Philadelphia has scored all season.
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The Bucks head to Atlanta to play the Hawks on Sunday, though they perhaps are better positioned to win that game because of the starters, only Donte DiVincenzo played the fourth quarter and only Jrue Holiday played more than 24 minutes.
“It was great for us to kind of maintain that and have a pretty big lead going into the fourth,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “With us playing (Sunday), for us to get the early in the day game and not play the heavy minutes it’ll hopefully give us a little bit in the tank for a really good tomorrow.”
Mike Scott, who filled in for Embiid, was the only starter on the court for Philadelphia in the final quarter. The Bucks opened the fourth up 86-63, and the primary subs off the bench gradually pushed the lead to as many as 27 before the entire rosters saw time.
The limited capacity home crowd did have reason to cheer from early on, however, as Antetokounmpo became the third player in Bucks history to reach the 12,000-point plateau when he made his first free throw of the game at the 9:40 mark of the first quarter.
The ovation was loud and sustained enough that 76ers guard Seth Curry paused to look up the scoreboard to see the milestone.
“Oh, that’s why they were cheering today?” Antetokounmpo asked after the game. “That’s why they were cheering. Dang, I just realized that. So, it’s a great compliment.
“Gotta keep working hard. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint, so I gotta keep working hard and keep believing in myself, keep polishing my skills, keep having great teammates that love to be great, a great coaching staff. It’s good. It’s just a lot of hard work that paid off, but gotta keep moving forward.”
Antetokounmpo’s 24 points also saw him pass Glenn Robinson for No. 2 on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14,211) is No. 1 all-time.
Antetokounmpo made nine of his 12 shots, but was 5-for-10 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 14 rebounds and handed out seven assists.
Holiday was the only other Bucks starter in double figures, scoring 12 points. Khris Middleton was whistled for two fouls in the opening 2½ minutes of the game and never found a rhythm, scoring four points on free throws.
Milwaukee scored 76 points off the bench and 48 in the paint, with Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton leading the second unit with 17 and 11 points, respectively. Bryn Forbes added 13.
“I thought it was fitting that the ‘bench mob’ was able to have a helping hand in closing the game out against one of the creators of the bench mob in (76ers guard) George Hill,” Connaughton said. “In general, for us, I think we want to bring the same energy, effort, intensity, defend, rebound, do the things that we need to do off of the bench to help support the starting group.”
Philadelphia was paced by Shake Milton (15 points) and Dwight Howard (12 points, 12 rebounds) off the bench. Curry led the 76ers starters with 13 points. Tobias Harris was held to nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.
Philadelphia woke up briefly in the third quarter, using a 12-3 run early in the period to trim a 10-point Milwaukee lead down to 55-54 at the 8:36 mark. But the 76ers were overwhelmed by Holiday and Antetokounmpo, as the duo scored 15 points in a 20-3 Bucks run to push the lead to 75-57.
Portis and Connaughton then took the mantle from the two stars, leading a 9-0 run that blew the game open and gave the Bucks a 25-point lead.
In all, Milwaukee closed the third quarter on a 31-9 stretch to go into the fourth quarter leading 86-63.
“They were better,” Rivers said of that decisive run. “Honestly. We made our own mistakes, we missed three or four shots in a row, and they made shots.”
The Bucks took a 50-40 lead after the first half thanks to scoring 12 points off 76ers turnovers. The game lacked energy — and shot making — from the beginning, and each team struggled to score. Milwaukee shot 36% and Philadelphia shot 33.3%.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Milton scored 12 off the bench for the 76ers. They were the only players to reach double figures in any category for either team.
Philadelphia was also hit with three technical fouls in the half (Rivers, Howard and Harris).
The 76ers took a brief lead to start the game by scoring five points off Bucks turnovers, but after a DiVincenzo 3-pointer made it 7-5 at the 9:06 mark of the first quarter, the Bucks never trailed thereafter. They led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter and went into the second leading 26-17.
Philadelphia cut the lead down to 31-28 early in the second quarter, but Milwaukee stretched it out again to 47-34. The 76ers scored six straight points over 30 seconds to cut it to 47-40 but Connaughton hit a three-pointer with a second left to make it 50-40 Bucks into the break.
Follow Jim Owczarski on Twitter @JimOwczarski.