Two definitive statements were made Thursday in the Milwaukee Bucks' 128-122 win over the Philadelphia 76ers: Milwaukee is without a doubt the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, and Giannis Antetokounmpo has more than a legitimate chance to unseed James Harden as the NBA MVP.
Down five points with less than two minutes to play, Antetokoumpo could not find a way to get a shot off as the 76ers keyed on him, but he influenced so many plays it didn't matter.
The 24-year-old star tallied three rebounds, three assists and a block during that span as the Bucks finished the game on a 15-4 run to earn the victory and clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about Antetokounmpo's MVP candidacy after the game. "That felt like a statement, especially what he does defensively with five blocks and 13 rebounds, it changes the game," he said.
Antetokoumpo finished with 45 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and zero turnovers and he needed every single one of those stats as Joel Embiid seemed to match him play for play with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists of his own.
But Giannis sent back one Embiid shot late in the game and blocked the All-Star center three times through the 48 minutes.
STUDS OF THE NIGHT
Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield had a game-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Sacramento's 117-104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
JJ Redick had 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the 76ers' loss.
DUD OF THE NIGHT
Cavaliers guard Brandon Knight had five points on 1-of-7 shooting in Cleveland's loss.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso tallied an emphatic put-back dunk against the Golden State Warriors.
With two to four games left for most teams in the East, the sixth, seventh and eighth playoff spots are still up for grabs. Here are all of the games to watch Friday as 26 of 30 teams are in action.
Raptors (56-23) at Hornets (36-42) — The Hornets are all but eliminated, but not mathematically. A loss to the Raptors would all but knock them out.
Hawks (29-50) at Magic (39-40) — Orlando is tied with the Nets for the seventh playoff spot with three games to play.
Heat (38-40) at Timberwolves (35-43) — Miami is currently on the outside looking in on the eighth playoff spot.
Pistons (39-39) at Thunder (45-33) — Detroit is currently in sixth in the East.
Brooklyn Nets — Off
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