LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 45 points and had 13 rebounds as the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 128-122 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
It is the first time in franchise history that the Bucks head into the playoffs as the top seed in the East.
“I was just trying to make plays and trying to find the opportunity to attack,” Antetokounmpo said.
Khris Middleton finished with 22 points for Milwaukee, who locked up home court advantage in the playoffs and won the season series over the 76ers after the teams split their first two games.
“It’s been a really special year,’’ Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ‘’I’m very proud of the team.”
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid recorded his second career triple-double with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in his return from a three-game absence due to a sore left knee.
JJ Redick added 29 points and Mike Scott scored 22 for Philadelphia, who failed to solidify their hold on the number three seed in the East by losing their third straight game. Philadelphia dropped to 49-30 on the season.
The game got heated in the early stages as less than three minutes in Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe was ejected after receiving two technical fouls. Bledsoe got tangled up with Philadelphia’s Embiid and was thrown out by the officials after he fired the ball at Embiid, hitting him in the stomach.
Embiid and Philadelphia’s Mike Scott also received technicals.
Antetokounmpo scored 12 points in the first quarter as the Bucks took a 30-26 lead into the second. Milwaukee looked like they would take the lead into halftime but Philadelphia erased a six-point deficit over the final four minutes of the second quarter to jump ahead 58-56.
In the fourth quarter, Antetokounmpo made a free throw to cap a 6-0 run with 6:27 left to tie it 104-104.
It is the 42nd time this season Antetokounmpo has scored 25 or more points and 10 or more rebounds in a game.
“He’s been doing it all for us this whole season,’’ Middleton said.
George Hill finished with 20 points, Sterling Brown scored 12 and D.J. Wilson had 11 for Milwaukee, while Ben Simmons dished out 13 assists for Philadelphia.
“We struggled guarding them,’’ 76ers coach Brett Brown said. ‘’We gotta do better.’’
Now that they have clinched the top spot, the Bucks will likely rest Antetokounmpo for a game. The league MVP candidate missed Milwaukee’s Sunday game at Atlanta because of a sore right ankle.
Elsewhere, DeMarcus Cousins scored 21 points as the Golden State Warriors boosted their chances of securing the top seed in the Western Conference by clobbering the Los Angeles Lakers 108-90.
The West-leading Golden State improved to 54-24 on the season with just four regular season games left. The two-time defending NBA champion Warriors have a two-game lead over the idle second place Denver Nuggets, who host Portland on Friday.
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