Bucks stakes against Lakers: Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 47, Khris Middleton returns in big win for Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE – The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are the last two NBA champions, and have once again been among the title favorites this season. Nor did it look like it for the first month, however, mostly due to injuries. The most notable of those is LeBron James ’abdominal strain, which kept him out of Wednesday night’s matchup and saved some of the game’s juice.

But Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were still out there, and you’ll never get bored when that’s the case. Especially not when the first set a dominant 47 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bucks to a 109-102 victory.

The Lakers came out on an early double-digit lead, but the Bucks worked their way back into the game late in the first quarter. From there, they were mostly in control and led by as much as 12 before the Lakers went on a run to briefly regain the lead early in the fourth. That’s when Khris Middleton – back in the lineup after an attack with COVID-19 – stepped in and put the Bucks definitely ahead with a 3-pointer. He finished with 16 points, five rebounds and six assists overnight.

Westbrook led the Lakers in defeat with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Davis added 18 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers have now dropped back to .500 in the season at 8-8 but should be bolstered by LeBron’s return later this week.

Here are some main remarks of the game:

1. Giannis rules from the open top

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks needed a few minutes to get going, but once they never looked back. He threw down an emphatic engagement for Milwaukee’s first points of the game, and in the next 90 seconds added three more finishes at the edge. He kept that aggressive mindset all night.

“He was in attack mode,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He really, competitively and out of mind, really wanted to be his best. When he’s in attack mode that’s usually when he’s at his best. I thought he made some great passes as well. Giannis was special tonight.”

That was him. He had 28 points in the first half and finished with 47 points, nine rebounds and three assists on 18-of-23 from the field. It was a season high for him, and also made him the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1995 to go for at least 45 points and shoot 75 percent off the field against the Lakers.

The Lakers had no response for most of the night and could only slow him down for a short period when they switched to a zone in the second half. Giannis later resolved that, however, and took over along the stretch. He scored 12 points from the fourth quarter, including eight in the final 3:09. The most important of which came with just over two minutes remaining as he bullied Talen Horton-Tucker under the basket, converted an e-one and bent over to an ecstatic crowd.

Giannis was great throughout the season, but it didn’t always translate into wins for the shortened Bucks. This time, though, with another great player in Davis on the other hand, Giannis brought in some extra and it wasn’t a waste.

“[Davis is] one of the best players in the league, “Giannis said.” You have to come prepared. If you don’t come ready, it will be a long night. You need to have your guard up. You have to be willing to compete against a guy like Anthony Davis. Guys like that, if they smell fear, they attack you. And vice versa. If I see someone scared of me, I’d kind of go all night. I will not stop. You have to be ready to take on the challenge, and you have to be ready to take on the challenge as well. “

2. Middleton comes back, comes up, makes history

The Bucks have been plagued by injuries and absences all season, but they are finally starting to return to full strength now that Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are both in the lineup again. Middleton has missed the past eight games after testing positive for COVID-19, but has been cleared and ready to go for this one.

That proved to be crucial for the Bucks. Although he was rusty early on, missing his first five shots in the first half, he began to find a rhythm later. He went for 12 points, four rebounds and three assists on 4-for-7 from the field in the second half alone, and hit a few huge shots in the fourth quarter.

“It was just, my form was very far away,” Middleton said. “But I kind of expected that. First game back after a while, not really touching the ball for almost two weeks. Knowing that, you know, it’s going to be a little rusty. Just try to make the best shot possible. Play within the game. but be aggressive at the same time. Just stay with it and know that someday I will find it. “

After leading by even 12, the Bucks were late early in the fourth with Giannis on the bench. Previous times during the season, the game got away from them at similar points. Now, with Middleton back, they have a secondary option that can carry the offense for tensions. With just about nine minutes left, Middleton hit a back-to-back 3s to turn a one-point deficit into a five-point lead. The Bucks never backed down again.

“It’s good to have him back,” Giannis said. “Good to be back on the road. We missed him. Just having him out there, he attracts a lot of attention. Like, people have to guard him and he’ll make the right game … He certainly helped the team. Hit two back-to-back 3s for us, he gave us momentum, played great games along the stretch defensively, offensively. It’s good to have him back. “

If going back to court wasn’t enough, Middleton also put his name in the history books. With the second of his clutch 3s in the fourth quarter, he tied Ray Allen for most 3s in Bucks franchise history with 1,051.

3. Bucks have a chance to get back on track

Between an eruption of injuries and the absence of Khris Middleton COVID-19, the Bucks did not look like themselves. Even after their win over the Lakers, they are 7-8 and wouldn’t even be in the game-in-tournament if the season is right now. The last time they were under .500 this late in the season was back in 2017.

After winning the title last season, the team is far from panic mode. At the same time, they know they need to start putting together some positive results before the gap between them and the top of the Eastern Conference is too great.

“We have to start winning games,” Giannis said. For me it’s not the most important thing. For me the most important thing is to improve and build good habits and play the best basketball throughout May and June. But at the end of the day it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you keep losing, so now we have to change that mindset. We have to win games, go there and play hard, play together. “

They have a chance to do just that in the coming days. First, they have Giannis, Middleton and Jrue Holiday completely healthy again for the first time since the first week of the season. Including the win over the Lakers, that trio have now played three games together this season, and the Bucks are 3-0 with a plus-40-point difference. In addition, the rest of their home stand features games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic (twice) – three of the worst teams in the league.

“This is a good opportunity now that Khris is back for us to get back on track,” Giannis continued. “Start building some games right here. We’ll see. I can’t predict the future but we’re in a good place right now.”

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