Embiid leads 76ers to big win over Bucks, Warriors shock Rockets
The Philadelphia 76ers celebrated Christmas with a rout of the NBA’s top team, thumping Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks 121-109 on Wednesday.
Cameroonian big man Joel Embiid scored 31 points as the Sixers ran roughshod over the league’s top-rated defense.
Embiid pulled down 11 rebounds and played a key role in neutralizing reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo — who was held to 18 points on eight-of-23 shooting.
“The whole season I’ve been humble, but I want to be defensive player of the year, and I feel like tonight showed it,” Embiid said.
Tobias Harris added 22 points, Josh Richardson had 18 and Ben Simmons scored 13 for the 76ers, whose 21 three-pointers are the most for a team on Christmas Day.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 31 points, but Milwaukee never looked like turning the tide.
“It was a great win,” Embiid said. “It started on the defensive end and we knocked down a couple of shots and that’s how we got the lead.”
The margin would swell to as many as 29 points as Milwaukee lost for just the fifth time this season and the 76ers signalled they don’t intend to hand the Eastern Conference over to the Bucks.
“I think this team is designed for the playoffs,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “I believe the road we have traveled so far has been a little bit erratic, at times. But I think the landing spot is exciting.”
Antetokounmpo insisted the defeat would only make the Bucks better.
“We had to go through this today,” the Greek superstar said. “We had to have our character tested today because the only way you get better is when you face adversity.
“I don’t like losing, but at the end of the day I think sometimes when you lose this way you get better as a team.”
The game was one of five marquee match-ups on the NBA’s Christmas Day slate, which also included LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the Los Angeles Lakers against their cross-town rivals the Clippers.
Another Western Conference clash saw the Golden State Warriors give their fans an unexpected holiday treat: a 116-104 victory over the Houston Rockets in San Francisco.
While the Warriors have reached the last five NBA Finals, they’ve struggled with injuries that have seen stars Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry sidelined and were underdogs against the Rockets lineup featuring James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
– Warriors win ‘feels amazing’ –
Draymond Green scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and Damion Lee added 22 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as the Warriors rallied to win their third straight — just their seventh victory of the season.
Westbrook had 30 points and 12 rebounds for Houston. Harden had 24 points and 11 assists as the Warriors’ effective defense kept him away from the free-throw line.
“It feels amazing,” Green said. “You know, we have a super-young team and it’s been a rough season. But (coach Steve Kerr) has been telling us for the last month we’re getting better, we’re getting better. It’s finally starting to show and paying off and it feels good.”
The holiday extravaganza moved north of the border for the first time, as the Boston Celtics spoiled the reigning champion Toronto Raptors’ party with a 118-102 victory.
“To get a win here on Christmas is like the perfect present,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored 30 points for the Celtics.
Brown connected on 10 of 13 shots from the field including five of seven three-pointers as the Celtics snapped an eight-game losing streak in Toronto.