MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo got turned away early but made the clutch plays late.
One of the NBA’s most dynamic dunkers shook off a rare rejection and helped the Milwaukee Bucks turn away Brooklyn’s attempt to rally from a 23-point deficit in a 129-115 win over the undermanned Nets on Saturday.
Antetokounmpo had his third triple-double of the season with 31 points , 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Khris Middleton scored 29 points, despite a quad injury. The Bucks, who have won three straight and seven of eight, extended their NBA-best record to 25-10.
They nearly squandered their big lead after the Nets went on a 14-0 run in the fourth, and Shabazz Napier‘s 7-footer with 4:51 left trimmed the deficit to seven.
“I think there was a pretty major lapse, the start of the fourth quarter,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Middleton and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ two best players, reasserted control.
After a bucket by Middleton, Antetokounmpo scored six straight and also drew a charge on former teammate Jared Dudley in a 57-second span of the fourth that ended with the Bucks rebuilding a 15-point lead with 3:10 left. The Bucks were back on their way to their third straight win and seventh in eight games.
“He was phenomenal in the last five minutes,” Budenholzer said.
But a 6-foot-11 forward known for making highlight reels drew social media buzz after a dunk attempt in the first quarter was blocked by Nets center Jarrett Allen.
Leave it to Antetokounmpo to finish strong.
“That’s what a superstar does. When it’s crunch time, when it’s time to close a game out – he did it,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said.
Napier tied his career high with 32 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 10 of 12 from the foul line. Kenneth Faried had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez added 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the 3-point arc. Lopez provided balance from the perimeter, especially after hitting 5 of 9 from the arc in the first half to help open up a 19-point halftime lead.
The 7-foot center has become quite a long-range threat since he started shooting 3s with more frequency while with the Nets two seasons ago under Atkinson’s tutelage.
Atkinson was forced to come up with a plan on Saturday to slow down the league’s highest-scoring team despite missing six players going into the contest because of injuries or rest. Brooklyn then lost forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with a right groin injury in the first quarter.