PHILADELPHIA — The Milwaukee Bucks were well out of reach early against the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers, falling 130-95 on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
But the Bucks would have to wait on the results of Miami's matchup with Toronto and the Washington-Orlando game to lock in their playoff position and determine their first-round opponent.
When it was all said and done − with the Heat beating the Raptors in overtime and the Wizards falling to the Magic − Milwaukee finished seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and will face the No. 2 Boston Celtics in a seven-game series set to begin this weekend.
Joel Embiid and JJ Redick watched from the Philadelphia bench and Ben Simmons had a scoreless first half as the 76ers still won their 16th consecutive game, burying the Bucks early to clinch the No. 3 seed in the East.
The 52-win Sixers will open the Eastern Conference playoffs against the sixth-seeded Heat.
Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft who missed 68 games with a shoulder injury, became the youngest player in NBA history (19 years, 317 days) with a triple-double with 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
"It was just a matter of going out there and enjoying myself and playing confident," Fultz said.
His teammates doused Fultz with strawberry milk, chocolate milk and water in celebration of the record feat.
"It's all love and appreciation," he said.
Fultz should have hit up Embiid and borrowed something to protect his face.
Embiid wore a black mask during warmups to protect his broken bone around his left eye, then changed into his garish outfit to watch the Sixers romp to a stunning 80-44 lead at the break.
Embiid said he will likely miss at least Game 1 of the playoffs this weekend because of the injury.
The 76ers have done just fine without him.
Redick was a late scratch with lower back tightness and Simmons, who finished with four points, missed both shots in the first half. No problem. The Sixers hit 11 3s in the first half and could have celebrated the No. 3 seed at halftime.
The Sixers had to win to earn the three spot and they dominated a Bucks team that was fighting for seeding in the playoffs. At one point, the Sixers led 72-37 — at the same time the Flyers were down 7-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL playoffs.
Embiid, who entertained the crowd during timeouts, hasn't played since March 28 when he suffered a broken bone around his left eye in a collision with Fultz. The Sixers clearly need their big man if they're going to make a run in the playoffs. Embiid leads the team with 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games, helping Philly clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.
"I want to play but right now I feel like I'm not ready yet," Embiid said. "It's getting there. I've got to keep working every day. With the way it's been progressing, I'm hopeful I'll be back soon."
He said the eye was still swollen, though he doesn't suffer from blurred vision.
Even those with 20/20 vision needed a second look at the scoreboard to make sure the numbers were real.
The Sixers in the first half
— shot 59 percent from the floor (31 of 53).
— shot 46 percent on 3s (11 of 24).
— had 22 assists, eight steals, three blocks.
— led by 41, 70-29.
With the Sixers up 39, fans started chanting "Trust the Process! Trust the Process!"
The much-maligned — now sure to duplicated — "process" method that saw the Sixers strip the roster of talent to guarantee losing and stockpile draft picks has been a winner. Embiid, Simmons and Fultz all played crucial roles in leading the Sixers (52-30) to their best record since the 2001 Eastern Conference champs went 56-26.
"It's not something that I deem to be, here we are, we've arrived, significant-type status," coach Brett Brown said. "It's not that. I want them to enjoy it. Take a deep breath. Then reload."
Jabari Parker scored 25 and Giannis Antetokounmpo had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"Right from the start, there were problems," Bucks coach Joe Punty said. "I can rant and rave right now but I don't think that's the important thing. It was clear we didn't play very well."
By losing Wednesday night the Bucks failed to secure the first-round draft pick that was part of the trade for Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns earlier in the season.
The pick was protected in spots 1-10 and 17-30 this season.
By finishing with a 44-38 record and tied with the Heat, the Bucks will have to await the results of a tiebreaker to determine if they will keep their first-round pick in the 2018 draft or send it to Phoenix.
The tiebreaker to determine draft seeding will take place Friday, according to ESPN.
The Sixers and Bucks both have two days off before the NBA playoffs open.
On Thursday morning, the Bucks announced that they will open the playoffs at Boston at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The second game will be Tuesday at 6 p.m. Central at Boston, before the series moves to Milwaukee for games Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
If necessary, the series will continue in Boston on Tuesday, April 24, Milwaukee Thursday, April 26, and Boston Saturday, April 28.