MILWAUKEE – The goats are starting to get whole again.
Behind a season-high 47 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, defended from Jrue Holiday and a couple of clutch 3s in the fourth quarter from Khris Middleton – in his first match back after missing the previous eight after testing positive for COVID- 19 – The Bucks picked up a 109-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
It was the first time since October 23 that Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday all played together in the same match, and although the Bucks have slowly gotten started with a record of 7-8, they are 3-0 this season. when their three stars play together.
“It’s the three-headed monster,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “It’s the three guys that make us go.”
The contributions from Milwaukee’s three majors add up to a winning formula that led the Bucks to a championship, but a combination of injury and illness has resulted in an uneven start to this season. The Bucks are still without expected starting center Brook Lopez (back) and shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo (ankle), but having their three best players back in the lineup paid off for Milwaukee on Wednesday.
“I think it’s a good opportunity now that Khris is back so we can start getting back on track,” Antetokounmpo said. “Start building some games right here. And we’ll see. I can not predict the future, but we’re in a good place right now.”
Antetokounmpo put in a dominant performance against the Lakers. He made 18 of his 23 shots, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, while hitting 8 of his 11 penalty throws. In recent games, Antetokounmpo said he felt he had not been aggressive enough, so he came out against the Lakers to score.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles did not have much of an answer to prevent Antetokounmpo from getting to the basket. Antetokounmpo finished with 30 points in the paint, which was the most of any player in a game this season (Yes Morant vs. Cleveland Cavaliers on October 20), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Antetokounmpo went 9-of-13 from the floor with Anthony Davis as the primary defender matched against him and 6-of-8 on drives to the basket.
“He made it look easy tonight,” Middleton said. “Came to his places, was patient. Did not necessarily try to force his way through too many guys. If he saw an extra body, he tried to find the open man. It was just amazing in terms of picking his spots and getting to his spots and to be comfortable and just be him. His best version of himself. “
Sharing the floor with Middleton again helped ease some of the pressure that Antetokounmpo had seen from opposing defenses in recent weeks.
Middleton played 30 minutes in his first game back and finished just 4-of-12 with 16 points. However, he scored eight points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of 3s to help Milwaukee win the win – and to tie Ray Allen to the most 3s in franchise history with 1,051.
“I always complain to him, ‘I see you too much. I’m tired of you. We need to have some space apart.’ Now I missed him a little, “said Antetokounmpo with a laugh. “Just having him out there, it definitely helped the team. He hit two back-to-back 3s for us, gave us momentum, made good plays down the stretch, so it’s good to have him back. Absolutely good to have him back. “
And although Holiday still rounds off in form offensively (3-of-13 shots on Wednesday) after missing six games earlier in the season with an ankle injury, he rose defensively in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Info data, when Holiday was the primary defender, the Lakers shot 5-of-17 from the floor and missed all six shots he guarded in the fourth quarter.
“He played a really smart defensive game,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Holiday. “Offensively, I think he still finds his rhythm a little bit, but I think defensively, he was in a lot of places, made a lot of games that were great for us.”
Despite being a game below 0.500, Bucks players have shown no signs of concern. Their starting lineup on Wednesday marked a ninth different combination in 15 games this season. But as long as that lineup includes Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday, the Bucks showed what heights they are capable of.
“We certainly started much slower than I think we all wanted to,” Middleton said. “But it happens; it has happened. So we just have to find a way to get ourselves off this track. Tonight was a good start, so hopefully we can take a few games if we need to. . “