Joel Embiid scored 42 points to win his personal duel with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Philadelphia 76ers scored a 123-120 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
After a humiliating 135-87 loss to Boston on Tuesday, the Sixers roared back to life with a gutsy win over the reigning NBA champions in Milwaukee.
Embiid enhanced his MVP credentials with another dominant performance for Philadelphia in the final game before the All-Star break.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks’ scoring with 32 points, while Jrue Holiday had 24 and Khris Middleton 19.
But the victory went to Embiid and the Sixers in a game that saw the lead change hands 15 times.
Cameroonian star Embiid, who will turn out for Kevin Durant’s All-Star line-up this weekend, said the Sixers had been determined to make a statement after Tuesday’s mauling by Boston.
“It sucked… we learned a lot from that,” Embiid said.
“Tonight we had to get back to our game and send a message.”
The Sixers also relished another battle with Antetokounmpo.
“These kind of match-ups are always fun, battling against a great player,” Embiid said.
The Sixers victory also came without new recruit James Harden, who is expected to be fit after the All-Star break. Embiid is looking forward to welcoming Harden into the fold after his blockbuster move from Brooklyn.
“I’m excited about it, I’m excited for us to be healthy,” he said.
“I’ve got to keep doing what I’ve been doing and I’m sure my teammates are going to follow. We’re excited about what we can accomplish.”
Elsewhere Thursday, Dallas star Luka Doncic continued his superb run of recent form with 49 points as the Mavericks overpowered the Pelicans 125-118 in New Orleans.
The 22-year-old Slovenian star’s dazzling display included seven three-pointers as well as 15 rebounds and eight assists in a game that Dallas dominated after piling on 45 points in the first quarter.
Doncic, who will report for duty as one of the reserves on LeBron James’s team for the All-Star break, has posted scores of 49, 21, 45 and 51 points in his last four outings.
Jalen Brunson (23 points) and Maxi Kleber (20) were the Mavs’ other main scorers.
C.J. McCollum led the Pels’ scoring with 38 points, including 10 three-pointers.
In Charlotte, the Miami Heat bounced back from Tuesday’s defeat to Dallas with a 111-107 victory over the Hornets to regain top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Kyle Lowry’s 25 points and a 21-point display from Duncan Robinson sparked the Heat, who saw all five starters finish in double digits.
In Brooklyn, a burst of fourth-quarter scoring helped the Washington Wizards to a 117-103 win over the Nets.
The Wizards erupted for 39 points in the final period to pull clear of the Nets, who had been looking to extend a winning streak to three games.
Rui Hachimura led the scoring for Washington with 20 points from the bench, one of seven Wizards players to hit double figures on the night.
Corey Kispert had 16 points, while Ish Smith added 15.
Patty Mills topped the Brooklyn scorers with 22 points.
The Nets were without the injured Kevin Durant as well as Kyrie Irving, who is unable to play due to local Covid-19 regulations in New York.