The Milwaukee Bucks have clinched home court for the playoffs, with their NBA-best 59th win of the season, edging the Philadelphia 76ers 128-122.
The back-and-forth encounter was a battle of the stars as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid traded blows all game, with the Greek Freak getting the last laugh, finishing with 45 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and FIVE blocks in the win. Embiid was no slouch on the night, recording 34 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, three blocks and two steals as the 76ers slumped to their third-straight loss.
JJ Redick scored 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, while Mike Scott added 22 points, starting in place of Jimmy Butler. For the Bucks, Khris Middleton chipped in 22 points and George Hill added 20, filling in for Eric Bledsoe who was tossed from the game just 2.5 minutes in after throwing the ball at Embiid after a scuffle.
With these two teams providing plenty of entertainment at Wells Fargo Center, here's three takeaways from the game:
Philly's late-game woes continue
After leading by as many as seven points early in the fourth quarter, after an Embiid's three-pointer with 8:14 left made it 102-95, the 76ers slowly let the lead slip, with a George Hill layup tying things up at 119-119 with 1:24 remaining.
The Bucks then went on an 8-0 run to ice the game.
Even with the game in the balance, the Bucks just wanted it more. They got to loose balls, deflected passes, hauled in rebounds and got out in transition. The absence of Jimmy Butler accounts for some of the 76ers lack of fight on the defensive end, but in this instance, it was Butler's ability to come up with timely buckets down the stretch that was missed most as Philly went to Embiid, Harris and Redick in crunch time with mixed success.
Brett Brown feels the #Sixers could've used Jimmy Butler during their 4th quarter struggles versus the #Bucks pic.twitter.com/fyeJNv9Pue- Dave Uram (@MrUram) April 5, 2019
Sure, they scored 36 points on 56.5% shooting in the fourth, (7-of-11 from three) but they didn't put up much resistance on the other end, letting the Bucks power their way through the paint on their way to 46 points in the period.
Butler sets the tone for the 76ers defensively, on the perimeter at least and his absence was definitely felt in this one.
Giannis vs Embiid = Clash of the Titans
The battle between these two was worth the price of admission alone.
With Embiid producing one of his best all-around games with his second triple-double of the season, the Bucks needed an answer and the back-and-forth battle seemed to energise Antetokounmpo, who turned up the heat in the fourth quarter.
Anything Embiid did, the Greek Freak could do.
When Embiid put the 76ers up seven with a triple, Antetokounmpo brought it straight back with a three of his own as their one-on-one battle reached fever pitch.
Joel & Giannis are trading buckets 🔥#HereTheyCome x #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/shbVsTfzxF- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 5, 2019
While his block on Embiid early in the third quarter was arguably his most impressive play of the game, Antetokounmpo's fifth block of the night with the Bucks leading by two, was arguably his most important.
Stopped. ✋#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/XOHWqctWR6- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 5, 2019
A 7-game series of Giannis vs Embiid is exactly what the playoffs need.
Next man up for the Bucks
The Bucks were already missing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, while Eric Bledsoe lasted less than three minutes into the contest after his ejection.
Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like he was doing everything by himself, but he needed help and he got it in the form of Sterling Brown, D.J. Wilson and most impressively George Hill.
Hill stepped in for Bledsoe and recorded 20 points, five rebounds and five assists on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting, coming up with some big plays down the stretch, giving the Bucks the late lead with this transition bucket.
HILL POWER 💪#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/mZj1SFWpx8- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 5, 2019
Meanwhile, Wilson (11 points, six rebounds) and Brown (12 points, five rebounds) brought relentlsess energy on the defensive end, helping the Bucks pick apart the 76ers with their effort alone.
Minutes will be hard to come by in the playoffs as the rotations get shorter, but the Bucks know they have guys on the bench just waiting for their moment to shine.