MILWAUKEE — Despite falling behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, the Philadelphia 76ers rallied for 133-130 comeback victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night, snapping the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak.
James Harden scored 38 points with 10 assists and Joel Embiid added 31 points and also collected 10 assists, making them the first pair of teammates with 30 points and 10 assists in the same game since 1979.
The Sixers outscored the Bucks 48-31 during the fourth quarter, the most points the team has scored during the final period since 1972.
“Give ourselves a chance. That was that whole fourth quarter,” Harden said after the game. “I feel like they had us that entire game and then that fourth quarter we came out with some pop.”
Harden and Embiid provided the pop with a pick-and-roll game that Milwaukee had no answers for on Saturday night. Philadelphia generated 32 points directly off the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll combination and at 1.70 points per chance, it was their most efficient game in the regular season since becoming teammates, according to Second Spectrum research.
The Sixers repeatedly dialed up that action during their fourth quarter comeback, which allowed Harden to pick apart the Bucks defense. He scored 19 points on 5 of 9 shooting in the fourth quarter — the most points he’s scored in a single quarter since Dec. 28, 2020 when he was with the Rockets — with four assists and knocked down all seven of his free throws.
“That’s what I do,” Harden said. “I’m very comfortable in those situations, whether it’s playmaking or scoring. I’ve been doing it for a long time. So that’s just me out there playing basketball.”
When the Bucks sent extra help on the Sixers star duo, they found George Niang left open to punish Milwaukee from beyond the arc. Niang knocked down 4 of his 5 3-pointers during the fourth quarter.
“I thought James made great decisions,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “He was obviously a scorer tonight, but he also was a point guard too.
“First half, I thought he was aggressive trying to score. Second half, he scored, but he was playing like an aggressive point guard. I thought the second half was better because he not only scored but he assisted as well.”
The Bucks were handed their first loss since Jan 21, shrinking their lead to 1/2 game over the Boston Celtics for the best record in the NBA, despite strong games from Milwaukee’s stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points and 13 rebounds and both Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez added 26 points.
But Milwaukee’s normally staunch defense — the Bucks began Saturday first in the NBA in defensive efficiency — had some uncharacteristic breakdowns in the fourth quarter and in crunch time.
“We did a good job the first three quarters,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously the fourth quarter, lot of free throws, they made some tough threes, it was basically our game… but they came out they were aggressive, they moved the ball, got downhill to the paint.”
The Sixers secured the comeback victory despite two of their starters leaving Saturday’s game early with an injury. Tobias Harris didn’t play in the second half with left calf soreness. P.J. Tucker exited in the third quarter with back spasms and did not return. Rivers was not sure about the severity of either player’s injury after the game, but he was not optimistic either would be ready to play in Monday’s game in Indiana.
So, Saturday night was a much-needed win for the Sixers, who are currently in third place in the Eastern Conference, especially considering their tough schedule to close out the season including games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and Bucks.
“It’s good, having these type of games, especially with our schedule the rest of the way,” Embiid said. “It’s good for us, prepares us for the playoffs. It’s good and bad. Good because you know you’re able to do it, but it’s also bad because you put yourself in that position [down 18]. So maybe we should try to find a way to not put ourselves in those positions in the first place so we don’t have to do it again.”