Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 31 points in 24 minutes to lead Bucks to victory over Spurs

The Milwaukee Bucks split their season series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 130-94 victory Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum. The Spurs beat the Bucks back in November without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton (and Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles), but with a healthier lineup the Bucks improved to 52-20 on the year.

The 36-point victory was the Bucks’ largest of the season.

The Spurs fell to 19-54.

Middleton scored 29 points and handed out 10 assists for his fourth double-double in 28 games this season. Holiday had eight assists and seven points. Bobby Portis led Milwaukee's reserve unit with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Joe Ingles had 14 points thanks to 4 of 6 shooting from behind the three-point line.

Giannis takes over to lead Bucks

Even good NBA teams don’t have much of an answer for the Bucks’ MVP candidate, but the hapless Spurs didn’t even have a pencil for the test.

BOX SCORE: Bucks 130, Spurs 94

The second-worst team in the Western Conference (by a game) had 6-foot, 11-inch Zach Collins, 6-10 Gorgui Deng and 6-10 former Buck Sandro Mamukelashvili – but none of them had any real chance to get in Antetokounmpo’s way, let alone prevent him from doing whatever he wanted on offense.

Following a Portis free throw, Antetokounmpo scored six straight points late in first half to extend a two-point Bucks lead to nine, and then he scored 12 points and assisted on two more over a four-minute stretch in the third quarter to blow the game open.

Antetokounmpo said the team got out and ran in the final two minutes, which created more space for him to operate. He insisted it wasn't a mindset to take over, but rather better defense that in turn led to offense.

"We came right out of the gate in the third quarter, played hard, kept guys in front of us, started switching everything, tried to make them play one-on-one and not move the ball as much and we were able to rebound the ball and go the other way," he said. "The third quarter we got whatever we wanted, from lobs, open threes, we were able to take the lead and that was pretty much it."

Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 31 points on 14-of-23 shooting in just 24 minutes. He had 24 points in the paint, 10 off the fast break, six off offensive rebounds and he dunked seven times. His only real nemesis was the free throw line, where he was just 2 for 5.

"I think a big part of that finish to the the second quarter was him attacking and then him getting us open threes, Joe (Ingles) to finish the half – those are momentum plays going into halftime up 15 instead of 12," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He just creates great looks for himself and for others and he just continues it to start the third quarter."

Antetokounmpo also had 14 rebounds, far and away a game-high as well.

Bucks guard Jrue Holiday tries to keep the ball away from Spurs forwards Keita Bates-Diop (left) and Julian Champagnie during the first half Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.
Bucks guard Jrue Holiday tries to keep the ball away from Spurs forwards Keita Bates-Diop (left) and Julian Champagnie during the first half Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.

Spurs keep it close until late in first half

Sixteen personal fouls.

Fifteen turnovers.

Six made three-pointers.

Those three numbers helped the Bucks to a 66-51 lead at the half, but they needed a closing flourish over the final minutes to do so. The young Spurs had cut a 13-point Milwaukee lead down to 51-49 with 2:41 to go in the half before Antetokounmpo scored six straight points to key a 15-2 closing run for the Bucks.

“I think credit to them,” Budenholzer said. “It felt like a couple of their guys made enough threes to keep ‘em in touch. (Jeremy) Sochan was getting to the basket a little bit. We missed, it felt like, some easy ones, missed some free throws. They’re a competitive group. They’re going to come with it. They were making plays to kind of hang with us and then the run at the end of the second quarter kind of changed the game.”

The last four turnovers of the half were particularly painful for the Spurs, as the Bucks scored nine points off them. Milwaukee had scored nine points off the previous 11 in the half.

It was needed, as Milwaukee short on many of their three-point attempts (7 for 22, 31.8%). They only made 56.3% of their free throws (9 for 16) and they turned it over eight times of their own.

Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks with 18 points on 8 of 15 shooting while Middleton had 11.

Five numbers

1 Shot for Brook Lopez in 13 first half minutes, a missed three at the 6:13 mark of the second quarter). The Bucks’ center came into the game averaging 20.8 points on 14.5 field goal attempts per game since the all-star break. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting.

8 Magic number for the Bucks to clinch the No. 1 seed with 10 games remaining (the magic number is the combination of Milwaukee wins and/or Boston losses remaining to clinch the spot).

18-4 Bucks record when the Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday play.

30-7 Bucks record at Fiserv Forum. They became the first team from the Eastern Conference to reach the 30-win mark at home.

34 Double-doubles on the season for Portis, which is top 10 in the NBA. It was also his 21st off the bench, which leads the NBA.

Play of the game is Joe Ingles' buzzer beater

The Spurs kept it close for much of the first half, but the Bucks put an end to any upset thoughts by the end of it -- and Joe Ingles put the exclamation point on it with a buzzer-beating three-pointer off a dish from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Video of the game is Giannis' tip slam

The Spurs are one of the worst teams in the league, and they came into the game with five players deemed inactive. But, they trailed just 17-13 in the early going before Giannis Antetokounmpo followed a Bobby Portis miss with a massive tip-slam about halfway through the first quarter that made it 19-13. It got the crowd into it and started a 9-2 run that gave the Bucks a double-digit lead and control of the game (even if the Spurs kept it tight until two minutes remained in the second quarter).

Bucks injury report: Jae Crowder out with injury, while Thanasis Antetokounmpo returned to team

Who do the Bucks play next?

The Bucks head back on the road Friday to take on the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. Last season, the Bucks broke a two-decades long, 19-game losing streak in Salt Lake City by winning 117-111 on March 14, 2022.

As for this season, the Bucks handled the Jazz easily at Fiserv Forum on Dec. 17 in a 123-97 win without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Joe Ingles. The Jazz is led by all-star and most improved player candidate Lauri Markkanen as well as former sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Giannis Antetokounmpo takes over to lead Bucks to victory over Spurs