Facing off with one of the only teams capable of competing with them in size, strength and length, the Milwaukee Bucks completed their biggest comeback of the season to defeat the LA Clippers 106-105 in a late-night matchup at Fiserv Forum.
Just one point shy of his career-high, Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 54 points and 18 rebounds on 21-of-39 shooting from the field and 10-of-15 from the free-throw line.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac dared the All-Star Captain to shoot jump shots, and while he only made 2-of-8 triples, this allowed him to build momentum toward the rim, effectively fouling Zubac out of the game with his onslaught of dribble-drives.
With this performance, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the second player in Bucks franchise history to reach 50 points three times in a single season, joining the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did it five times in the 1971-72 season.
“It’s a great compliment to be up there with Kareem,” Antetokounmpo said. “I finish a game where I scored 50, I’m like ‘What the hell just happened? It’s insane.’
“It’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of self-belief. Being up there with somebody like Kareem that played in this franchise, it’s a great compliment, but I’ve gotta keep working hard.
Milwaukee Bucks show what they’re made of in 21-point rally.
In what could’ve spelled disaster for the Bucks, Giannis gave the ball back to the Clippers with a minute to go down one point. Backup wing Wesley Matthews drew the one-on-one assignment of defending Kawhi Leonard, who missed a mid-range pull-up jumper with seconds to go from the same spot where Leonard once hit a game-winner to reach the NBA Finals in 2019. The Bucks escaped from this competition without the same fate as Philadelphia four years ago.
“I thought it was a battle. There was a ton of toughness,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Everything you get, you’ve gotta earn. I thought the guys responded.
Milwaukee struggled mightily in the first quarter, scoring only 15 points while failing to make a single 3-point field goal. Giannis himself missed his first several attempts and shot 1-of-7 through his first six minutes, heaving several ill-advised jump shots in the process. The Bucks’ bench helped revive the team’s momentum with pesky defense and a 16-point contribution from Khris Middleton, who played just under 20 minutes and hit key shots down the stretch before being benched due to his minutes limit.
Antetokounmpo rallied from his difficult start and pushed the tempo against Leonard, Zubac and Marcus Morris Sr. In that same timeframe, the Clippers forced action through Norman Powell, who finished with 26 points on 16 shots off the bench. His uncanny ability to knock down heavily contested 3-point baskets was a catalyst in building LA’s leads in the first and third quarters.
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It was much of the same to begin the third quarter as the Bucks fell behind by as many as 21 points. However, Milwaukee rallied and finished the third down nine points. The Bucks managed to outscore their foes by 10 in the final quarter to seal the victory with Giannis assuming the center position to close out the competition.
“When we have Giannis at the five, we need everybody to help on the boards and show that toughness,” Budenholzer said. “I’m proud of the guys [and] the way they hung with it being down 21.”
Subtleties kept the Bucks alive through much of the competition — Holiday’s active hands, Joe Ingles’ physical defense on Paul George, Middleton’s aggressive drives, or Pat Connaughton’s constant motion around the court, to name a few.
Yet in the end, it was the play of Giannis Antetokounmpo that fueled the Bucks once again. He ultimately accounted for more than half of his teams points, outscoring Leonard and George by 21 on his own.
Matthews didn’t speak for long following the competition, but he left on a remark as confidently as he defended Leonard on the final possession: “He’s amazing. He’s the MVP.”
So what’s next for the MVP candidate? Milwaukee will practice on Friday and host the Miami Heat in a celebration of Black History Month on Saturday, Feb. 5. But in-between, Giannis has big plans.
“Tomorrow, I think I’m going to go to Culver’s. I’m going to get 50 cheeseburgers and I’m going to try to eat as many as I can.”
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