Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t quite ready to surrender his claim to the MVP title just yet. For the third time in a calendar month, the Greek Freak scored at least 50 points as he pushed the Bucks’ winning streak to six games.
Antetokounmpo, who will captain one All-Star team opposite LeBron James, put together the performance in a rough battle against a dangerous LA Clippers team that had both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George available. The Clippers’ stars had a rough night though, scoring a total of 33 points on 42 combined shots.
More impressively, the Bucks looked destined to lose the game midway through the third quarter. With 7:26 left in that period, a Paul George free throw gave the Clippers a 21-point lead. However, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks answered with a furious rally that cut the deficit to a manageable nine points heading into the final stanza, and they rode their star out to a victory.
Antetokounmpo scored what turned out to be the game’s final points with 1:47 left on the block, which gave the Bucks a 106-105 lead, their first since being up 39-38 in the first quarter. After that, the Bucks hounded the Clippers on defense and forced them to play iso ball, which proved ineffective as neither or their stars could sink the game-winner. The Bucks held the Clippers to just two points over the final 3:57 of the game.
The Clippers had plenty of chances to win. Leonard had three attempts from midrange, while George airballed a pull-up three. The Clippers even had the final shot of the game, because Antetokounmpo threw the ball away carelessly with 15.1 seconds left on the clock after misreading Pat Connaughton’s run. Fortunately for the Bucks, Leonard was unable to convert on his final attempt before time expired.
The Bucks (35-17) have closed the gap with the Celtics (37-15) for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and are only two games behind them. They’ll be facing the Celtics in a couple of weeks, and that game may prove pivotal to final playoff positioning in the tight race.