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Photo from NBA Twitter
MANILA, Philippines – The Milwaukee Bucks put a lock on the No. 1 spot in the NBA Eastern Conference to secure homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
Behind another sensational show from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers, 128-122, in a gritty showdown between the East elite on Thursday, April 4 (Friday, April 5, Manila time).
MVP bet Antetokounmpo erupted for 45 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocks as the Bucks secured the top seed with a 59-20 record.
"I was just trying to make plays and trying to find the opportunity to attack," Antetokounmpo said.
The duel that went down to the wire seemed like an early playoff clash as Sixers star Joel Embiid – who returned from a three-game absence due to a sore left knee – also gave all that he could to finish with a triple-double of 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists on top of 3 blocks and 2 steals.
It is the first time in franchise history that the Bucks head into the playoffs as the top seed.
"It's been a really special year," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I'm very proud of the team."
The MVP dominated in the WIN: 45 PTS | 13 REB | 6 AST | 5 BLK | 59% FG #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/aroMaQcfsL — Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 5, 2019
Milwaukee also got enough support from Khris Middleton, who scored 22, and George Hill, who had 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
The Sixers, who played minus Jimmy Butler (back tightness), skidded to their third straight loss but still kept hold of the 3rd spot in the East with a 49-30 record.
The game got heated in the early stages as less than 3 minutes in Milwaukee's Eric Bledsoe was ejected after receiving two technical fouls. Bledsoe got tangled up with Embiid and was thrown out by the officials after he fired the ball at Sixers star, hitting him in the stomach.
Embiid and Philadelphia's Mike Scott also received technicals.
"A guy like @kobebryant telling me to go get the MVP made me change my mentality and believe it even more that I can do it." pic.twitter.com/XhbXLjfqZ4 — Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 5, 2019
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.
JJ Reddick had 29 points and Mike Scott scored 22 for Philadelphia.
Antetokounmpo scored 12 points in the 1st quarter as the Bucks took a 30-26 lead into the 2nd. Milwaukee looked like they would take the lead into halftime but Philadelphia erased a six-point deficit over the final 4 minutes of the 2nd quarter to jump ahead 58-56.
In the 4th quarter, Antetokounmpo made a free throw to cap a 6-0 run with 6:27 left to tie it 104-104.
George Hill finished with 20 points while Sterling Brown scored 12 and DJ 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 Greek star missed Milwaukee's Sunday game at Atlanta because of a sore right ankle.
The best plays as the Bucks clinch home court advantage!! #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/TZHCRouHLo — Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 5, 2019
– With a report from Agence France-Presse