Joel Embiid scored 40 points and 15 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers overcame Giannis Antetokounmpo’s career-high 52 points to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 130-125 and clinch a playoff berth on Sunday.
It was Embiid’s 52nd career double-double and the 25th time he has scored at least 30 points and seized 10 rebounds in a NBA game.
Embiid’s best quarter was the fourth when he tallied 18 points as the visiting Sixers earned a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the top-ranked team in front of a crowd of 17,300 at the Fiserv Forum. “They are the best team in the NBA right now, as far as record goes,” Embiid said. “No. 1 in our conference. I felt like we had to make a statement. We had to get this win.”
“I thought we all did a pretty good job in the first half. In the second half, he (Antetokounmpo) kind of got going. He is tough to guard.”
Jimmy Butler had 27 points and JJ Redick 19 for the Sixers, who won their fourth in a row.
Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks on his back with one of the best games of his career. He also had 16 rebounds and seven assists, and Khris Middleton added 19 points. The Bucks played without guard Malcolm Brogdon, who will be sidelined for at least six weeks with a plantar fascia tear in right foot. Embiid made two free throws in the final seconds of the fourth to help seal the win.
“He’s (Embiid) a tough guy,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s a great defender, strong. It was kind of hard going at him.”
Elsewhere, LeBron James scored 33 points but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers sliding to an embarrassing 124-123 defeat to the league-worst New York Knicks.
The Lakers, who are all but out of contention for the playoffs, blew a 122-111 lead late in the fourth quarter as the Knicks ended a run of eight consecutive defeats with an upset win at Madison Square
Garden. It marked another grim milestone in the Lakers’ rocky season, which has nosedived dramatically since the turn of the year.
The Knicks are rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with the worst record in the NBA, with Sunday’s win seeing them improve to 14 wins against 56 defeats. The Lakers meanwhile are stuck in 11th spot in the Western Conference with 31 wins and 39 defeats, nine wins fewer than the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the last remaining playoff berth.
Dejected Lakers coach Luke Walton, whose job is reportedly in peril, praised the Knicks for digging out an improbable win.
In Houston, Chris Paul scored 25 points, tied a career high with six three-pointers as the Houston Rockets used a third quarter run to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-102. Capela recorded 20 points and 13 rebounds in grappling with Timberwolves All-Star centre Karl-Anthony Towns (22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists). Rookie forward Josh Okogie scored 21 points for the Timberwolves, who have dropped 7 of 10. Taj Gibson chipped in 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for Minnesota. Houston improved to 11-2 since the All-Star break.
Nikola Vucevic scored 17 of his 27 points in the first quarter and the Orlando Magic remained in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 101-91 win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
Vucevic scored the first 13 points of the game for Orlando and 17 of the team’s first 19. He finished 10-for-20 from the field, the 32nd time this season he’s led the team in scoring, and grabbed 20 rebounds for his team-leading 52nd double-double.
Orlando, vying for its first playoff spot since 2010-11, has won two in a row and all three games against Atlanta. They complete the season series on April 5 in Orlando.
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