MILWAUKEE — When a superstar exits a game, his team has only two paths ahead of it: sink or swim. Thankfully for a sellout crowd of loyal Milwaukee Bucks fans, the team elevated its play in the absence of star Giannis Antetokounmpo and claimed a convincing 128-99 victory over the Miami Heat in their return from the All-Star break.
Antetokounmpo exited the game and went to the locker room in the first quarter. By the middle of the second period, he was ruled out for the night. The team announced that Giannis banged knees with a Heat opponent, but the severity of his injury remains unclear.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow; just evaluate him and take it day-by-day,” head coach Mike Budenzholer said of his star player’s status.
He was replaced in the lineup by Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Bobby Portis, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the contest. Even before his MVP teammate left the game, Portis put on a show by hunting his matchup with Miami newcomer Kevin Love.
All-Star guard Jrue Holiday — an honorary ‘Antetokounmpbro,’ as of the NBA Skills Challenge — took command of the game and stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 shooting from deep.
Former All-Star Khris Middleton continued his tenure off the bench with 12 points in 17 minutes while Brook Lopez and Grayson Allen contributed 17 and 16 points respectively.
Jae Crowder, Meyers Leonard make Bucks debut against their former team
Midway through the fourth quarter, roars of applause echoed through Fiserv Forum as Jae Crowder checked in for his first NBA action since May of last year.
The 32-year-old Marquette product held out after he failed to finalize a contract extension with the Phoenix Suns, who wanted to demote Crowder from the starting lineup. He was dealt to the Bucks at the NBA trade deadline — a deal that was signaled by months of speculation and a recent visit to the city to meet with Bucks brass.
Crowder made a strong impression in his debut game, finishing with nine points and three rebounds on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor and a perfect two-for-two from deep. More-so than his raw statistical output, Crowder impacted the contest by competing on the glass, bullying through ball-screens and forcing the Heat into difficult positions as an on-ball defender.
Portis said that his new teammate, Crowder was a great fit for the team and contemplated their group with his ‘3-and-D’ playstyle. Coach Budenholzer also noted that the Bucks had been trying to acquire Crowder for some time because of his defensive intensity and fit with their core.
In addition to Crowder, this game signaled a new beginning for Meyers Leonard, who returned to the court for the first time since 2021 against his former team. Coincidentally, Leonard was teammates with Crowder for a brief time in Miami when they made an NBA Finals run during the 2020 ‘Orlando Bubble’ Playoffs.
Leonard came off the bench with five points and six boards in nearly 15 minutes — a modest return as backup up to Lopez.
“For him to get to play after the injuries, different things and missing a long period of time — I’m happy for both of those guys,” Budenholzer said. “They can both help us be our best.”
Although he didn’t have the scoring performance one might’ve hoped for, the 5-time Love made his Miami Heat debut with eight rebounds, four assists and a steal in 21 minutes as a starter. He did not score a single point despite taking four shots.
Heat star Jimmy Butler played only 21 minutes himself, scoring 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Miami featured five bench players with 16 or more minutes including yet another newcomer, Cody Zeller (10 points, four rebounds).
Riding a league-best 13-game winning streak, the Bucks will host the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum for a Noon tipoff on Sunday, Feb. 26. You can tune into the action on Newsradio 620 WTMJ, and don’t forget to stick around for Bucks Talk after the game.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS HEADLINES FROM THE WTMJ NEWS STAFF:
- Bucks sign Meyers Leonard to first NBA deal since 2021
- TUNE IN: Bucks Weekly with Justin Garcia for February 20, 2023
- Milwaukee acquires Jae Crowder in multi-team deal including Nwora, Hill, 5 picks
- Culver’s donating 54,000 diapers to Milwaukee Diaper Mission in honor of Giannis’ 54-point game
- Milwaukee Bucks mount historic comeback vs. Clippers as Giannis joins Kareem in the record books
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