Lillard scores 39 and Giannis breaks another of Kareem's Bucks records in a win over the Rockets

The Milwaukee Bucks won their fifth straight game overall and 14th straight at Fiserv Forum with a 128-119 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.

In snapping a five-game winning streak by the Rockets (13-10), the Bucks (19-7) improved to 3-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.

Bucks point guard Damian Lillard tied his season high with 39 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He made 12 of 13 free throws, with the miss coming as part of a series of four technical foul free throws in the fourth quarter. He also had a game-high 11 assists.

Box score: Bucks 128, Rockets 119

"The last two games definitely felt different," he said. "I think I had some good games before but it was just, I'm a shot-maker so the ball was going in. This is as good as its felt, in rhythm, the timing of how it's happening, I'd say this is the best it's felt."

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 17 rebounds and Khris Middleton scored a season-high 20. Middleton had 14 in the fourth quarter to help hold off a Houston rally.

Brook Lopez added 18 for the Bucks.

Fred VanVleet led seven Rockets in double figures with 22 points. Alperen Şengün had 20 for Houston.

Bucks' first-half offense helps topple Rockets defense

Under new head coach Ime Udoka, the Rockets came into the game with the No. 1 scoring defense (105.1 points per game allowed) and as the No. 2-rated defensive team (107.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). Not coincidentally, the Rockets are the best at limiting opponent three-pointers (31.2%) and are second in opponent shooting overall (43.5%).

Houston has held teams under 100 points seven times.

The Rockets also have kept teams from second-chance points, limiting opponents to 10.1 offensive rebounds per game – the fifth-best total in the league.

The Bucks entered the game at the completely opposite side of the spectrum.

Milwaukee was coming off a night in which it tied a season-high with 146 points scored in a win over Detroit and had posted consecutive 140-point nights for the first time since 1971-72. It is the second-highest scoring team in the league (124.2 points per game) and third in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) at 120.2.

The Bucks are the best shooting team from inside the three-point arc (58.8%) and the fourth-best from beyond it (38.4%) – so they shoot 50.3% overall (No. 2).

And while the cliché is “defense wins championships,” offense wins games in December.

After a 33-point first quarter, the Bucks scored 38 in the second – the most an opponent has scored in that quarter against the Rockets all season. Milwaukee’s 71 points in the first half trailed only the 76 Denver put up against Houston on Nov. 29.

Milwaukee attacked the offensive glass, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds for 13 second-chance points. It also scored 11 points off six Rockets turnovers. And while the Rockets' team defense might be strong, they had nothing for the Bucks’ individual stars. Lillard scored 20, Antetokounmpo 17 and Lopez 12 on a combined 19 of 33 (57.6%) shooting.

The Bucks needed all of it, too. At this juncture of the season Houston’s numbers aren’t a mirage and the Rockets defense eventually tightened around Milwaukee in the second half. The Bucks scored 29 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth quarter.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo goes to the basket Sunday night. Antetokounmpo, who already held franchise scoring and assist records, toko the rebounding mark during during the game against the Rockets at Fiserv Forum.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo goes to the basket Sunday night. Antetokounmpo, who already held franchise scoring and assist records, toko the rebounding mark during during the game against the Rockets at Fiserv Forum.

Giannis Antetokounmpo breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rebound record

Rebounds, for the most part, are a mundane part of the game. Save for exciting tip-slams off missed shots, they signify the hustle on the offensive end and making a stop defensively. But they add up and on Sunday night as Giannis Antetokounmpo passed Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for career rebounds.

Antetokounmpo collected a miss from Tari Eason with 7 minutes 50 seconds left in the third quarter, his 14th of the game, effectively knocking the Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar off all major statistical pedestals for the franchise.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with season-high 17 boards, giving him 7,165.

"Great, great feeling," Antetokounmpo said. "Hopefully if I keep working hard, there's more to come. I have goals, aspirations, things I want to accomplish and I want to keep on playing the game at a high level, I want to keep on taking care of my body and I know if I do that sometimes you break records.

"But at the end of the day, I'm blessed. Beyond blessed to be all-time leading in rebounds, but I've got to keep going, I've got to keep on moving forward."

To add a bit of flair to the rebounding highlight reel, Antetokounmpo did have an impressive two-handed tip-slam off a missed Pat Connaughton three-pointer in the second quarter, which was his sixth board of the evening.

Abdul-Jabbar set his franchise mark with of 7,161 rebounds from 1969-75, averaging 15.3 per game in his six seasons.

"It's a big compliment," Antetokounno said. "Nobody can ever take this. Obviously there's going to be another player that's going to come along in a couple years that's going to break all of the records the same way I don't think anybody assumed they would break Kareem's record.

"The kid from Greece, skinny kid from Greece that was drafted, supposed to play in the G League, be in a position to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record – I don't think anybody thought about that. So, I know for sure there's going to be somebody that's going to come along in time and is going to break all the records that Kareem or Oscar Robertson or Marques Johnson, myself, Khris (Middleton) and hopefully if I'm not busy with kids and I'm not on an island enjoying my life I'm going to be here and celebrating him and applauding him."

Abdul-Jabbar still holds club records for two-point field goals and two-point field goal attempts (he played when there was no three-point line). Johnson holds the club record for offensive rebounds, as that did not become an official NBA stat until the 1973-74 season. At that point, Abdul-Jabbar had already played four seasons.

Antetokounmpo, who is in his 11th season, holds the following franchise records:

  • Games

  • Minutes played

  • Field goals

  • Field goal attempts

  • Free throws

  • Free throw attempts

  • Defensive rebounds

  • Assists

  • Points

  • Blocks

  • Triple-doubles

"Anytime Kareem is the person you're passing, that's a crazy, crazy stat," Lillard said. "When I came here I was like, you might as well hold the balls till the end of the year because he's going to have every record possible by the end of the season.

"It just shows the kind of work that he puts into the game. You don't get rewarded the way he's been rewarded and you don't reach these types of milestones without being true to the game and putting into it what he's put into it. Like I've been saying, it's honor to be on the team with him. Everything that he's reaching right now I've seen it from afar and it makes perfect sense why he's leading points and rebounds, assists, blocks and whatever else.

"I'm sure he'll be No. 1 in everything in whatever statistic in the history of this team I'm sure he'll reach that at some point as well. This is just another one."

Middleton is the franchise leader in three-pointers and three-point attempts and Quinn Buckner leads in steals.

Dillon Brooks, Ime Udoka ejected in fourth quarter

With 38.9 seconds left in the game and Milwaukee up 125-117, Houston guard Dillon Brooks was assessed a technical foul as he tried to stop Connaughton from advancing the ball to halfcourt. Connaughton eventually fired the ball up to Brook Lopez before the whistle for a flopping call on Brooks. Brooks was hit with a technical foul for arguing, which resulted in a second technical and an ejection.

"Brooks was assessed his first technical foul for disrespecting a game official using profanity," crew chief Bill Kennedy said after the game in a pool report. "By rule the play was stopped at the 38.9 (-second mark) as we deemed that as the first neutral opportunity following the flopping violation."

Udoka immediately entered the court and also began yelling at the officials, resulting in two quick technical fouls and an ejection of his own.

Did you notice?

With just under two minutes to go in the first quarter, Antetokounmpo came off a screen from Connaughton and performed his famous spin move into the paint … but he ended up on both feet under the basket. Everyone stopped for a beat, and when there was no whistle, everyone started up again. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo lost the ball.

Pat Connaughton gets hit in the face … again

In just his second game back from a right ankle sprain that had sidelined him for six games from Nov. 30-Dec. 13, Connaughton caught an elbow from Rockets guard Dillon Brooks in the third quarter that laid the Bucks’ forward flat on his back.

Connaughton lay there for a bit before finally getting a towel to soak up the results of the elbow – a scene that the 30-year-old has become somewhat famous for during his time in Milwaukee.

"It's the only way to come back, it's the only to come back," he said, smiling. "By the way it's one of the harder ones I've taken. To be honest with you I couldn't tell (if it was a basketball play). I just knew I got hit hard. I don't really know how flagrant fouls work nowadays anyway. Everything can be considered a basketball play or not a basketball play, it all depends whose eyes you're looking through.

"But yeah, I got hit. I joked with him afterwards. I said you got pads on that arm sleeve but it ain't workin.'"

Brooks was initially given a basket on the play, but it was reviewed and ultimately reversed to an offensive foul on Brooks.

"A replay was triggered immediately to stop play to see whether a hostile act was not part of the natural basketball play," Kennedy said in the pool report. "During the review though we observed that Brooks made an illegal act on Connaughton while attempting to swim over and score the basketball.  We penalized Brooks for the illegal contact thus disallowing the scored basket."

5 numbers

3-0 Bucks' record vs. the Western Conference. They play their fourth team vs. the West on Tuesday when they welcome in No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs.

5-0 Bucks' record when rookie Andre Jackson Jr. starts a game. He filled in for an ill Malik Beasley for a second straight night, scoring nine points, pulling down six rebounds and handing out four assists in 36 minutes. He fouled out with 48.1 seconds remaining.

"He just keeps going," Lillard said. "He's a pest out there on the ball, making guys work, he's getting us extra possessions on the offensive end, he's flying in there on the defensive rebound. Just his activity and energy (is great).

"Sometimes young guys, they want to show what they can do ability-wise, and what he brings to the game is something you can always put on the floor. And it's not always something that you'll see on the box score or the stat sheet, but you can feel his presence in the game.

The 22-year-old Jackson is typically in games to provide a defensive spark in the backcourt and some offensive rebounding. But he’s found offense in the last two games, scoring a total of 19 points. In his previous three start Jackson started in place of Middleton.

9-0 Bucks' record when Lillard scores at least 30. Sunday night was his second straight game scoring at least that many, his first time going back-to-back since doing it three straight times Nov. 24-28.

13-0 Bucks' record when they score 30 or more points in the first quarter. They took a 33-28 lead after one thanks to a 15-point effort by Lillard. He scored the final five points of the quarter over its last 60 seconds..

59 Place all-time in assists for Lillard, who passed Kevin Porter (5,314) with his fifth dime of the night vs. Houston. Lillard now has 5,321.

Malik Beasley misses second straight game

Beasley missed his second straight game with a non-COVID illness. The shooting guard warmed up before the game but Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin said Beasley would not be able to play.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Damian Lillard scores 39 points; Giannis sets Bucks' rebound record