Barely a week after the Indiana Pacers eliminated them from the East Semifinal of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, the Milwaukee Bucks exacted some form of revenge with a 140-126 win at the Fiserv Forum.
Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like a man on a mission in the win and led the way for Milwaukee with a career-high 64 points. This also set a new franchise best for the Bucks and allowed Antetokounmpo to make good on his promise to surpass Michael Redd’s previous record of 57 points that he set back in 2006.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player was relentless in attacking the basket throughout the match as he punished Indiana’s much smaller frontline. Antetokounmpo wound up hitting 20-of-28 field goals and an astonishing 24-of-32 free throws in addition to tallying 14 rebounds, three assists, four steals, and a block.
This performance was a reminder that Antetokounmpo still belongs in the conversation as the best player in the league today. His combination of strength and athleticism remains unmatched and the floor should only open up even more in the coming months as he grows acclimated to playing with his new NBA All-Star teammate Damian Lillard.
Antetokounmpo’s outstanding performance also serves as a harsh reminder to the upstart Pacers that they still have a long way to go, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, if they want to be considered Eastern Conference contenders.
Indiana actually kicked off the contest strong, building a 16-8 edge in the opening minutes, before Antetokounmpo’s 13-point first quarter allowed them to swing the momentum and end the period with a three-point lead, 36-33. They slowly pulled away, extending this advantage to seven points by halftime, and maintained this lead come the start of the fourth quarter.
Through three quarters, Antetokounmpo’s point total was up to an impressive 38 though he still had a long way to go before hitting the 60-point mark.
The Bucks then kicked off the fourth quarter with an 19-8 rally that blew open the game as it increased their lead to 18, 120-102, with less than six minutes left on the game clock.
Antetokounmpo had 49 points at this juncture and Indiana’s head coach Rick Carlisle decided it was time to essentially wave the white flag as he pulled out his stars Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner in favor of his seldom-used reserves.
However, instead of acceding to Carlisle’s act of surrender, Milwaukee’s head coach Adrian Griffin kept his starters in the game for two and a half more minutes where Antetokounmpo continued to pile on the points against the Pacers’ benchwarmers. Griffin eventually pulled out the seven-time NBA All-Star along with the rest of their starters with 3:24 remaining on the game clock as Antetokounmpo already scored 58 points–one point higher than Redd’s record.
Indiana then managed to cut the Bucks’ lead down to 10 with 2:05 left to play which allowed Antetokounmpo to return and score six more points to finish with his 64. Following the final buzzer, there was some extra curricular activity on the court as the Pacers appeared to keep the game ball instead of allowing Antetokounmpo to take it home.
Carlisle later on clarified that they took the game ball in commemoration of rookie Oscar Tshiebwe’s first career point as an NBA player.
Personal achievements aside, the win was an important one nonetheless for Milwaukee as it allowed them to maintain solo possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with a 17-7 win-loss record. They trail the top seeded Boston Celtics by only one game and they seem to be slowly coming together after a challenging start. The Bucks have now won four of their last five games–with the sole loss coming at the hands of Indiana in the IST semifinal–and 12 of their last 15.
If Antetokounmpo can maintain this form for the rest of the season, Milwaukee should once again find themselves in the thick of the race for the NBA title. The regular season may be a long one with many twists and turns, but performances like this one from superstars like Antetokounmpo are an important reminder that at the end of the day, a team’s ceiling is ultimately decided by its best player.