MILWAUKEE — Maybe it was just a severe case of the Getting Caught Up in the James Harden Hysteria blues.

How else can you explain the 76ers bouncing back to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 123-120, two nights after a humbling loss to the Boston Celtics?

Joel Embiid was back to his dominant self Thursday night, finishing with game-highs of 42 points and 14 rebounds to go with five assists. This marked his ninth 40-point, 10-rebound game this season.

With the win, the Sixers (35-23) moved up to third place in the Eastern Conference standings. They head into the NBA All-Star break 2½ games behind the first-place Miami Heat.

“I’m playing at such a high level, I don’t want to stop,” Embiid said of the All-Star break. “I want to keep on going. I feel really good. I’m not gonna just not work or take a couple days off.”

But this game wasn’t decided until the Bucks’ Khris Middleton missed a 31-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.

All this comes after the Sixers suffered one of their worst defeats in franchise history.

On Tuesday, the game against the Celtics seemed more like an afterthought. Most of the focus of that day went to the introductory press conference for Harden and Paul Millsap, who were acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks. Then came the excitement associated with Harden ringing the bell prior to the game. And more attention was paid to Harden’s outfit than the barrage of three-pointers the Celtics were raining early.

All that led to a humbling 48-point loss to Boston.

“There was a lot of stuff going on,” Georges Niang said. “But I hate to put any blame on that. You know what I mean? We are professional athletes. It’s not like this is our first rodeo. So like I said before, I don’t want to say it happens. We got popped. It is what it is.”

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With Harden still sidelined with left hamstring strain, the expectation was the Sixers would suffer the same fate against the Bucks.

But Embiid and the Sixers’ balanced attack didn’t let that happen.

Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris both had 19 points. Niang added 18, while Furkan Korkmaz added 13 off the bench.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks (36-24) with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists.

Down the stretch

Embiid hit a 10-footer with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left to put the Sixers up, 117-116. He then grabbed the defensive rebound on the ensuing possession and was fouled. Embiid split a pair of foul shots for a two-point cushion.

Then the MVP candidate sank a pair of foul shots with 41.6 seconds left to make it a 120-116 games. Middleton closed the gap to two points on a layup with 26.9 seconds remaining. But Georges Niang responded by splitting a pair of foul shots with 13.4 left to make it 121-118.

The Bucks called timeout, but Middleton missed a three-pointer with 9.4 seconds left. Maxey then converted a pair of foul shots put the Sixers up five points.

Switching things up

The Sixers unveiled their 28th different starting lineup of the season against the Bucks.

Niang got his sixth start of the season and first one since Dec. 3. The power forward joined Harris, Embiid, Maxey, and Matisse Thybulle. To make room, Harris started at small forward instead of his normal power forward.

The move benefited Harris.

The 11th-year veteran scored more points in the first quarter than he had for the entire game in Tuesday’s loss to the Celtics, when he finished with six points on 2-for-7 shooting. Thursday, he had 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first quarter.

It was a quarter where Harris and Embiid were the only Sixers to make field goals. Both players shot 5-for-9, while their teammates were 0-for-7. Harris, Embiid (12), and Maxey (two) combined to score all 24 of the Sixers’ first-quarter points, as they took a three-point deficit into the second quarter.

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Second-quarter emergence

Shake Milton made an 18-foot jumper 26 seconds into the second quarter to become the first Sixers not named Harris or Embiid to make a basket.

The Sixers stepped things up in the second quarter, shooting 69.6%, including making 5-of-9 three-pointers. While Harris cooled off, Maxey had the hottest hand in the quarter. He scored 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting, while Embiid added 10. The Sixers outscored the Bucks, 45-34, in the quarter to take a 69-61 lead into intermission.

Furkan’s Time

The Sixers swished things up in the third quarter, starting Korkmaz in place of Thybulle at shooting guard. Korkmaz responded by scoring six points in the quarter on 2-for-3 shooting, making both of his three-point attempts. He ended with eight second-half points.

Harden’s presence

Harden won’t make his Sixers’ debut until after the break. However, his presence was felt during the game. The perennial All-NBA selection sat to the right of assistant coach Sam Cassell on the bench and coached up teammates.

At one point early in the game, he stood up during a break in action, called over Maxey and instructed the second-year guard on what to do. He even demonstrated what Maxey needed to do. And Harden kept coaching up and encouraging Maxey throughout the game. Not just him. Harden kept giving advice to all of his teammates.

In the first quarter, Niang lost the ball a couple of times while driving in the paint. Harden pulled him aside to say “try to get up 10 threes. That’s what you do.” Niang ended up taking 10, making five of them.

“Note to self, take notes from James Harden,” Niang said.

Harden was also a big cheerleader, clapping after the Sixers made baskets.