The Milwaukee Bucks won their sixth straight and for the eighth time in nine games with a 106-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers late Thursday night at Fiserv Forum. The Bucks improved to 22-5 at home.
The Clippers dropped to 29-26.
In the end all Ivan Zubac could do was just try and push Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the way. Then, Antetokounmpo sent the Clippers’ 7-footer to the bench with his sixth foul with 1 minute, 47 seconds left in the game by barreling his way to the rim en route to 54 points in leading the Bucks to a massive comeback victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The signature moment came at the 1:47 mark as the Clippers challenged that foul up 105-104 – and were unsuccessful. It meant Antetokounmpo had two clutch free throws to put his team ahead.
He was 8 for 13 at that point from the free throw line – and he calmly drained the pair for a 106-105 lead.
“I’m not scared of the line,” he said. “I’m going try to go again and try to get fouled and go to the free throw line and trust my work and I was able to knock those two down. At the end of the day, in a situation like that usually, sometimes players get scared and they don’t want to back there.”
Neither team scored again as Jrue Holiday and Wesley Mathews keyed the Bucks defensive effort on Leonard from there, and the Bucks completed a 21-point second half comeback.
Khris Middleton (16) and Holiday (12) were the only other Bucks to reach double figures, and Antetokounmpo carried the load offensively. He scored 20 of the team’s 28 points in the final quarter.
“I mean, you got a guy like that that can carry us, he’s been doing it for most of the season he’s been out playing. He’s been doing this for years, and each year he keeps getting better,” Middleton said. “I mean, we love it. It gives us confidence because you know no matter what we’re always in the game because we’ve got this guy that’s going to keep coming, is relentless and is just putting his foot on the pedal.”
BOX SCOREBucks 106, Clippers 105
The Bucks’ MVP candidate came into the game Thursday night averaging a career-high 31.8 points per game on a career-high 21.0 shots per game and he fell a basket shy of a new career-high, which he set with 55 points against Washington on Jan. 3.
Michael Redd holds the Bucks single-game record with 57 points, set on Nov. 11, 2006.
It was Antetokounmpo’s second game scoring at least 50 in his last three and his third with at least 50 this season. He had done it just three times in the regular season his first nine years in the league. He insisted he’d rather score fewer points and win than score 50 and lose, but he did acknowledge it’s a fun number to hit.
It also was his fifth straight game of at least 30 points. Earlier this season he had streaks of six straight (Oct. 22-Nov. 2) and eight straight (Nov. 21-Dec. 7).
But, the Clippers made him work for it by sending multiple defenders at him all night long, from Zubac to 6-7 Kawhi Leonard and Robert Covington to several combinations of two or three. Before the game, Los Angeles head coach Ty Lue said building a wall to contain Antetokounmpo in the open court was paramount, but they weren’t afraid to collapse their halfcourt defense quickly with double and triple teams.
Antetokounmpo had to take 39 shots to get to his point total, having to weave his way around Clippers at nearly every pivot and spin. He was 2 for 8 from the three-point line and 10 for 15 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 19 rebounds.
He has now scored at least 40 on 11 different occasions, setting a career-high in just 41 games played thus far.
Antetokounmpo joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (five times, 1971-72) as the only players to have three or more 50-point games in the same season. He also now has five games with at least 45 points and 10 rebounds, the most in a season since Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 (seven) when the guard won the MVP.
Over his last five games Antetokounmpo has averaged 42.4 points and 15.2 rebounds and according to the NBA, the last player to average 42 and 15 over a five-game span was Moses Malone in 1982.
“He’s amazing,” Matthews said. “He’s the MVP.”
Bucks lock it down in final two minutes
Kawhi Leonard tried.
Holiday and Matthews denied.
The Los Angeles Clippers star had three chances to put his team ahead in the final minutes on Thursday night, but the Bucks veteran guards played him tough and forced him into fallaway attempts from 12-, 14- and 18-feet. Leonard is typically very dangerous from the midrange, but he could not get to his spots cleanly.
“Honestly, just trying to send him maybe to his weak hand, maybe that’ll do something,” Holiday said of the final possessions. “We know that if he gets it up in the air that shot, for the most part, is pretty good. But I think maybe sending him left a little bit, trying to switch it up, stay on his right hand, contesting on his right side, maybe that threw him off.”
And in the final moments of the game, he got a switch away from Holiday and onto Matthews, but the Bucks’ veteran defender kept Leonard from getting anything remotely clean.
“We don’t need to talk to each other, we know what each other’s doing, we know where each other is going to be at and it just makes us versatile on the defensive end,” Matthews said of his pairing with Holiday.
Antetokounmpo noted how Matthews picked him up, as the Bucks’ star threw the ball away in the backcourt with 15.4 seconds left.
“A lot of times great plays don’t miss twice, but they were so good defensively, making him take a tough contested two,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know that’s a shot he wants to shoot but he was off balance, falling away, just being right there and not just letting him go to the spot easily, just being physical throughout the whole possession.”
Leonard was just 7 for 26 for the game in scoring 17 points. He was also 1 for 6 from behind the three-point line.
Middleton, Holiday come up big late
Khris Middleton didn’t make his first shot until 5 minutes, 10 seconds remained in the second quarter. Holiday didn’t make a shot until the final minutes of the third quarter.
Yet when it mattered, the duo hit timely buckets to key a 21-point second half comeback.
After Holiday made his first basket to cut the Clippers lead to 81-65, Middleton rattled off six straight points and then Holiday knocked down his first three-pointer – and suddenly it was 86-74 and the tide was turning.
“It’s going to go in at some point,” Middleton said. “We put so much work in, gotta trust your work, gotta believe in it. You have a cold start, doesn’t matter, you gotta stay with it, you keep playing. That’s what we play for.”
Then in the fourth quarter, Holiday hit a three-pointer off a Wesley Matthews steal to cut the deficit to six and Middleton capped his night with a walk-up three to cut the deficit to 96-94.
Antetokounmpo then took over from there.
“He did what he needed to do to get us over the top,” Budenholzer said. “I thought Khris gave us every minute we needed from him and the other guys made just enough plays offensively to get us; I felt like we never led except for the end of the game. It was a good win.”
0 Three-pointers hit by the Bucks in the first quarter, as they missed all 8 attempts. They were just 6 for 21 (28.6%) from the field overall in falling behind 24-15 after one.
2:56 Time left in the third quarter when Holiday made his first basket of the game. He followed it up with a three-pointer to help the Bucks get back into it after being down 21 at one point. Holiday finished with 12 points on just 4-of-15 shooting. He also had eight assists.
9-2 Bucks record when the Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Holiday play together. The Bucks have won six straight with the trio on the court since Middleton returned on Jan. 23.
19-10 Clippers record when Leonard plays.
21 Point comeback for the Bucks, their largest of the season.
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Plays of the game are Wesley Matthews and Jevon Carter‘s forced turnovers
With the Bucks clawing their way back into the game early in the fourth quarter, Wesley Matthews poked the ball away from Paul George at the 9:58 mark of the fourth quarter, which led to a Jrue Holiday three-pointer to cut the Clippers lead to 91-85. A minute later, Jevon Carter’s dogged defense on Reggie Jackson forced Jackson to lose the ball out of bounds, which led to a tip-dunk by Antetokounmpo to cut the lead to 91-87. The defense not only led to offense, but energized the crowd and truly got the Bucks back into it.
Matthews: “It’s a game of energy, game of runs, have to make plays and those guys started getting a groove and when you see an opportunity – it’s kind of like football – when you get an opportunity to attack downfield, you gotta go do it. I saw a chance to be active with my hands, was able to make a play, our team was able to scoop it up and just feed off that momentum of the crowd and energy and keep it going and get a big win.”
Carter: “Just coming in, doing what we do, causing havoc. Trying to change the game, be a spark and it worked out today in our favor.”
Video of the game is Giannis’ walk-up three-pointer
The Bucks looked to be in big trouble down 21 points about halfway through the third quarter, but the team started chipping away at that Clippers lead behind Jrue Holiday making his first couple baskets and Khris Middleton adding a few as well. But in the final 30 seconds Giannis Antetokounmpo put some juice into the crowd with a walk-up three-pointer to pull the Bucks to 87-77. Wesley Matthews then added a free throw to put the Bucks right back in the game.
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Who do the Bucks play next?
The Bucks conclude a weeklong homestand by hosting the Miami Heat at 7 p.m. Saturday at Fiserv Forum. Miami beat the Bucks in consecutive games on Jan. 12 and 14 as Giannis Antetokounmpo missed both with left knee soreness. The Heat remains one of the best defensive teams in the league and is led by Marquette alumnus Jimmy Butler, Whitnall alumnus Tyler Herro and big man Bam Adebayo.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Giannis scores 54 and Bucks lock down Kawhi Leonard in 106-105 win