Philadelphia 76ers 90, Milwaukee Bucks 85
MILWAUKEE — What only a week ago was supposed to be a critical game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night was instead a rather meaningless one.
With the 76ers having already nudged out the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, neither team had much at stake in the Bradley Center.
But despite using patched-up starting lineups, both teams played a surprisingly competitive and entertaining game. After trailing by five points at halftime, the 76ers rallied in the second half for an 90-85 victory before a sparse crowd in the Bradley Center.
76ers coach Doug Collins used the occasion to rest several of his key players before the start of the playoffs.
But Collins still had the services of guards Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks and they nicely picked up the scoring slack.
Turner and Meeks finished with 29 and 27 points, respectively.
Turner scored a team-leading 15 points in the first half to keep the 76ers within striking distance of the Bucks at 50-45. Turner also hit a tough, clutch jumper to give the 76ers an 86-81 lead with 3:10 left.
Meeks, who began his pro career with the Bucks, scored 13 points in the third quarter when the 76ers outscored the Bucks 26-13 to take a 71-63 lead heading into the final period.
Meeks also came up big in the fourth quarter. He connected on a key 3-pointer with 8:29 remaining in the game, giving the 76ers a 76-60 lead. Meeks also made a pair of free throws with 6:57 to go in the game.
The Bucks, who are headed to the NBA Lottery for the third time in the last four seasons, also used a patched-up starting lineup that had only one regular starter in it: point guard Brandon Jennings.
Seldom-used rookies Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer got rare starting calls and responded admirably. The 19-year-old Harris — the second-youngest player in the NBA — flashed signs of his potential throughout the game, especially in the first half.
That’s when the 6-foot-9 Harris scored a team-leading 11 of his 15 points. Harris also grabbed a team-high six rebounds in the first half.
Leuer, a second-round pick, finished with eight points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
Besides Harris and Leuer, the Bucks got a team-high 19 points from Jennings. Reserves Mike Dunleavy and Larry Sanders contributed 12 points apiece.
The Bucks got a strong showing out of center Ekpe Udoh in the first half when he scored eight points. But Udoh experienced soreness in his right knee and only played a minute in the second half.
While Jennings was the only regular starter on the court at tip-off for the Bucks, the 76ers were without two of their regular starters, forwards Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala.
The “B’’ teams still acquitted themselves well early. The game was tied at 22-22 before the Bucks created some separation by moving to 29-24 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Evan Turner carried the scoring load for 76ers in the opening period with 10 points. Center Ekpe Udoh had eight points for the Bucks in the first quarter.
The Bucks continued to expand on their lead in the second quarter. Dunleavy’s jumper gave the Bucks a 39-29 advantage with 8:02 before halftime.
The Bucks went to the locker room in front, 50-45. Harris totaled 11 points in the first half, with Dunleavy contributing 10.
Turner was the only 76ers to score in double figures by halftime. He totaled 15 points.
NOTES: Three of the 76ers’ top players — Brand, Iguodala and Thaddeus Young — didn’t accompany the team to Milwaukee in order to rest up for the playoffs. Lou Williams, the 76ers’ leading scorer and Sixth Man of the Year candidate, was with the team but didn’t play. … Young has been shooting the ball exceptionally well lately, having connected on 31-of-46 field goals in the last five games — a white-hot 67 percent. … The Bucks started two rookies, Harris and Leuer. … The Bucks finished the season with just two sellouts at the Bradley Center and entered Wednesday’s home game with an average attendance of 14,757, the lowest in franchise history. … Bucks center Larry Sanders returned to action after serving a two-game suspension for his involvement in an altercation during last Thursday’s game in Indianapolis. … Jennings is the only Buck to have played in all 65 games this season. … While the dates, times and sites of the playoffs have yet to be determined, 76ers coach Doug Collins said he expects his team to open the playoffs Saturday afternoon against the Bulls in Chicago. … Collins on the truncated 66-game season: “It’s been a tough year, it really has.’’