The 76ers use “some pop” late to end the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak

MILWAUKEE — Despite falling as much as 18 points behind in the third quarter, the Philadelphia 76ers pulled off a 133-130 comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night, ending the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak.

James Harden had 38 points with 10 assists and Joel Embiid added 31 points and also had 10 assists, making them the first pair of teammates to have 30 points and 10 assists in the same game since 1979.

The Sixers surpassed the Bucks 48-31 in the fourth quarter, the most points the team has had in the closing stages since 1972.

“Give us a chance. That was the whole fourth quarter,” Harden said after the game. “I feel like they had us all game and then in the 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 scored 32 points straight from the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll combo and at 1.70 points per chance, it was the most efficient regular-season game since they became teammates, according to Second Spectrum research.

The Sixers repeatedly chose that action during their fourth-quarter comeback, allowing Harden to pick apart the Bucks defense. He scored 19 points on 5 of 9 shots in the fourth quarter — the most points he’s scored in a single quarter since December 28, 2020 when he was with the Rockets — with four assists and nabbing all seven of his free throws.

“That’s what I do,” Harden said. “I’m very comfortable in situations like this, whether it’s playmaking or goals. I’ve been doing this for a long time. So it’s just me out there playing basketball.”

As the Bucks sent additional help to the Sixers star duo, they found George Niang was left open to punish Milwaukee from across the arc. Niang knocked down 4 of his 5 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“I thought James made great decisions,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers. “He was obviously a goalscorer tonight, but he was also a point guard.

“In the first half I thought he was aggressively trying to score. In the second half he scored but he played like an aggressive point guard. I liked the second half better because not only did he score, but also assisted.”

The Bucks suffered their first loss since Jan. 21, shrinking to 1/2 game against the Boston Celtics, the best record in the NBA, despite strong plays from the Milwaukees Stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points and 13 rebounds and both Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez added 26 points.

But Milwaukee’s normally steadfast defense — the Bucks started out first in the NBA on Saturday with defensive efficiency — had some uncharacteristic breakdowns in the fourth quarter and crunch time.

“We did a good job in the first three quarters,” said Antetokounmpo. “Obviously the fourth quarter, a lot of free throws, they did some tough threes, it was basically our game…but they came out, they were aggressive, they moved the ball, went downhill to the paint.”

The Sixers secured the comeback win despite two of their starters leaving Saturday’s game early with injuries. Tobias Harris did not play in the second half with a pain in his left calf. PJ Tucker retired in the third quarter with back spasms and did not return. Rivers wasn’t sure about the severity of either player’s injuries after the game, but he also wasn’t optimistic about being ready to play in Indiana on Monday.

So Saturday night was a much-needed win for the Sixers, who currently sit third in the Eastern Conference, especially given their tough season-ending schedule of games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and Bucks .

“It’s good to have these kinds 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 can 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 of not putting ourselves in that position in the first place, so we don’t have to do it again.”

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