Bucks 120, Nets 119 (OT): Giannis Antetokounmpo powers Milwaukee to comeback win with record-breaking effort
NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets had just outlasted the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, and Kevin Durant dropped 41 points. Afterward he was asked about defending Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Milwaukee Bucks were headed in to play the Nets at Barclays Center Thursday night.
“His points are almost absolute, like a guarantee,” Durant said with a laugh.
Durant gave credit to the rest of the Bucks team and their continuity, but admitted Antetokounmpo’s points, “they’re gonna happen, so you just gotta make ’em as tough as possible.”
The Nets tried, but failed, in that regard in a thrilling 120-119 Bucks comeback victory in overtime. It is their second straight one possession come-from-behind win.
"I think guys are competing hard," Antetokounmpo said of the defensive effort in the last two games. "I think guys are feeling it now...what it takes to win a game. They understand that we gotta stop, that we gotta do whatever it takes to get a stop. Switch, hedge on the ball, box out, rebound. I think guys, we're building good habits. We've played in a lot of close games, so that helps."
Individually, Antetokounmpo continued his march on his first scoring title and third league most valuable player award with a 44-point effort, his 33rd game with at least 30 points this season. Antetokounmpo made 13 of his 21 shots and pulled down 14 rebounds in the victory. He also had six assists.
Box score:Bucks 120, Nets 119 (overtime)
Antetokounmpo also surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the No. 1 scorer in Bucks franchise history with the effort, sending the game to overtime by hitting a step-back three-pointer over Andre Drummond with 18 seconds left to tie the game 110-110.
"I knew we needed a three, so I was able to get my feet set and shoot that one and that one went in," Antetokounmpo said.
He then sunk the winning free throws with three seconds left after taking the ball coast-to-coast and drew a foul on Nic Claxton after Durant had given the Nets a 119-118 lead with three free throws with 8.7 seconds left.
"None of us are really surprised in our locker room about him wanting that moment, you know?," Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said.
"The thing about him is he wanted those moments before he was the three-point shooter that he is now. He wanted to hit the free throws before he was the free throw shooter he is now. Nothing's changed, he's just gotten better."
Durant had a chance to win the game as he got a look from the three-point line off a sideline inbound, but the ball fell off the rim.
Milwaukee improved to 48-28 and remains in play for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are 34-9 when its Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday play together. It was enough to offset the fact Durant was the court for the Nets (40-37), who fell to 32-18 when he played regardless of lineup around him.
Durant scored 26 points on 10 of 21 shooting and handed out 11 assists. Kyrie Irving scored 25 on 9 of 22 shooting. Bruce Brown added 23 for the Nets. Claxton had 11 off the bench.
Brooklyn also dropped to 6-5 when Durant and Irving play together.
Matthews looked at the stat sheet after the game and saw that his team turned it over 23 times (leading to 22 Nets points) and gave up 18 three-pointers.
"I can't believe we won that game," he said with a disbelieving chuckle. "That's hard to do. That's hard to do.
"Just competing, for better for worse. I don't think anybody looked up at the clock. I had no idea we were down nine in a short stretch of time. Just fight. Just compete. Compete and know that; obviously it helps to have big fella on your team that can literally break a game open for you and make plays. But one possession at a time, this team doesn't quit and just keep going."
Holiday scored 19 for the Bucks on 6 of 18 shooting, including three in the extra session. His opening bucket gave the Bucks a lead they would not relinquish. Matthews had 11, including a three in overtime that made it 115-113.
Antetokounmpo and strong defense from Matthews in the closing seconds sent the game to overtime, as Matthews (with some help from Antetokounmpo) forced Durant into a contested 14-footer with two-tenth of a second left that misfired.
To get to the extra session the Bucks clawed back from 106-99 deficit in the final 4:10 of regulation – a period in which they didn’t actually score until 3:01 remained. Matthews and Bobby Portis scored off offensive rebounds and Holiday added a pair of free throws to set up Antetokounmpo’s clutch three over Drummond.
Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks take their largest lead of the game at 96-92 with 8:12 to go in the game, but the Bucks then went scoreless for the next 3 minutes 23 seconds while the Nets went on an 11-0 run to take a 103-96 lead.
Within that stretch, Middleton was ejected for committing a Flagrant 2 foul on Brown with 5:05 to go. Brown had a breakaway dunk in front of him but slowed to take his time and Middleton caught up to him. As Brown lifted off, Middleton hooked his left arm, turning Brown horizontal in the air and causing a hard foul.
After a review, Middleton was sent to the locker room.
"We were kind of talking about after he got the flagrant 2 -- it's kind of like do you let him have the dunk?" Holiday asked. "Two and a half, three weeks from now, I'm not letting him have the dunk. I know it looked bad and we don't want anybody to be hurt but I don't want him to have it. I don't want him to have that dunk. I want him to earn it at the free throw line. I think it also looked bad because he was in the air and sometimes when you're in the air crazy things happen, but it wasn't malicious. And we know Khris.
"But that would be my question for the refs or whoever -- like what would you want us to do? You want us to just let him have that? My opinion, I don't think so, because I know they wouldn't do the same for me."
He finished with 16 points on 4 of 12 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists and four turnovers.
“They just said it was clearly a flagrant 2," Budenholzer said. "There wasn’t much debate. Just going to go with them. The referee’s got a difficult job. Khris feels badly. It was a tough play. That’s what the referees went with.”
The Bucks took their first lead since the first quarter in the closing seconds of the third, taking an 87-86 lead into the fourth thanks to an Antetokounmpo dunk with 14 seconds left. He scored 13 points in the quarter, carrying his team while the Bucks continued to struggle offensively.
On several occasions he got Milwaukee to within a possession only to see turnovers and missed shots, so he cut it to 75-74 with a driving basket with 5:07 to go. He got a breather at the 4:49 mark, but the Bucks couldn’t quite get over the hump until he returned for the final 79 seconds and finished with that slam.
At the end of the third, Middleton and Holiday had combined for more turnovers (eight) than made shots (seven).
“We were a little bit off tonight for stretches of the game," Budenholzer said. "Give Brooklyn credit. They were, defensively, we couldn’t get a rhythm. But he just found ways to make enough plays. Wes, it feels like he hit some big shots and Jrue with a big putback to start the overtime and a couple other plays, but yeah, Giannis, just again, special. Very, very special.”
Durant had seven points and seven assists in leading the Nets to a 60-56 lead at the break, but Antetokounmpo kept the Bucks from falling into a major hole with a 20-point effort as the team struggled to make shots – and defend.
The Nets made 53.3% of their shots and 56.3% (9-for-16) from behind the three-point line and led by as many as 11 about halfway through the second quarter, but Antetokounmpo would not let his team fall too far out of reach.
Antetokounmpo made eight of his 11 shots and all four free throws while assisting on three other baskets. Middleton added 12 points and Pat Connaughton 11 in support, as the Bucks closed the half on a 17-10 run to cut the deficit.
Brown led the Nets with 10 points and Irving had nine, all in the second quarter.
The Bucks overcame a slow start in which they went 1-for-6 with a turnover in the opening five minutes of the game to take a 18-15 lead thanks to a 12-3 run sparked by seven Connaughton points. But the Nets closed on a 15-5 run in the closing 3:36 of the first quarter to take a 30-23 lead into the second quarter.
Irving and Holiday were each held scoreless in the first quarter.