Sunday afternoon's national TV showcase game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers did not disappoint. In a preview of a potential second-round playoff matchup, the Sixers snuck past a cold-shooting Bucks team, 130-125 to win their fourth game in a row and take control of third place in the East.
While the Sixers led most of the way, they were never able to put the Bucks away, leading to a thrilling finish, as Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo went bucket for bucket in an exciting contest.
"This was only our seventh game having everyone healthy. Sixers 3.0 for this season," JJ Redick said after the Sixers' win. "We are still trying to figure each other out, but to get a win like this on the road is huge."
Here are a few takeaways from the Sixers' impressive victory:
Giannis vs. Embiid doesn't disappoint
Joel Embiid really hasn't been a part of the MVP discussion this season, but he showed once again on Sunday why he's the Sixers' most valuable player. The big man put together a complete performance in his fourth game back from a minor knee injury, finishing with 40 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, including a number of key baskets late in the fourth quarter. And he did it all while playing some strong defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"Obviously I had Joel guarding me," Giannis said postgame. "Tough guy, great defender. He can move his feet and stuff. It was kind of hard going at him. I was just trying to get switches, trying to be aggressive, trying to knock down shots and trying to make plays."
Speaking of the Greek Freak, he showed exactly why he's one of the leading candidates for that prestigious award. Shaking off a rolled ankle, Giannis put up a career-high 52 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists of his own to keep the Bucks in the game despite their poor outside shooting.
Together, they put together one of the best individual duels of the season and showed why there's so much excitement for the Eastern Conference playoffs this season.
Bucks go cold from 3
The Bucks have built one of the league's best offenses this season by going to a five-out system that prioritizes space and shooting. They launch 38 3-pointers per game, and though they hit just a league-average 35.1 percent of them, the volume makes up for the fact that they aren't always the most accurate. While their reliance on the 3-pointer has worked well for them most of the season, it can lead to games like Sunday. The Bucks couldn't buy a bucket from behind the arc, going just 16-of-50 from downtown.
The good news for the Bucks is that they still generated bunches and bunches of open looks, and were right in the game despite shooting so poorly. "We got a lot of great looks," Khris Middleton said in the Bucks' locker room after the loss. "The open shots just didn't go in. We got great looks, and they've been going down most of the year."
Taking a page out of the Sixers' book, they'll just have to trust the process and keep faith in their offensive system.
Sixers' bench steps up
The Sixers' new starting lineup of Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler is one of the best units in the league, boasting an outrageous net rating of plus-22.8 points per 100 possessions. That's great, of course, but unfortunately for the Sixers, they can't play the entire game, and the moves made to get all of those players have left their roster notably top-heavy.
There's been plenty of discussions already this season about the Sixers' lack of depth, and that will only increase as we get closer towards the playoffs when Philly's starting lineup won't be able to always generate as much of an advantage. Against the Bucks though, the Sixers' bench unit stepped up and deserves plenty of credit for the win. Mike Scott, TJ McConnell, Boban Marjanovic and James Ennis III combined for 24 points, and were more than able to hold their own -- which, it should be said, is really all the Sixers need them to do.