Bucks use record scoring first half, 41 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo to hold off Pacers 141-131

INDIANAPOLIS – The Milwaukee Bucks won their third straight game and for the fifth time in their last six with a 141-131 victory over the Indiana Pacers Friday night at Gainbridge FieldHouse.

The Bucks moved to a season-best 15 games over .500 at 32-17. The Pacers lost for the ninth time in their last 10 games to fall to 24-27.

“I feel like we’ve got some good energy going,” Bucks guard Grayson Allen said. “We’re making shots, the ball is moving. I think most of the games, outside of maybe last game (vs. Denver), we were racking up a ton of assists.

"I think there’s a bunch of good energy amongst the team. Having a full group healthy – unfortunately we’re losing Bobby – but we’re getting some guys back and I feel like we have a good energy about us and everyone’s feeling good about the game, feeling good about the ball movement.

"We’re putting up crazy scoring numbers in some of these games ‘cause we just have that kind of good vibe of everyone hitting shots, everyone flowing in the right direction.”

Pacers make it interesting but Bucks hold on

Indiana whittled a 33-point first half deficit to eight with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left after a Buddy Hield three-pointer made it 129-121 Bucks. Indiana began fouling Giannis Antetokounmpo, who started the game 2 for 10 from the free throw line, including a 10-second violation.

But over the next minute, Antetokounmpo went 5 for 7 from the line and the Bucks tightened up the defense to stretch the lead back to 134-124. By fouling, Indiana also slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, after they had hit the gas to get back in it with a 43-point third quarter.

“We struggled to keep them in front of us," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Offensively it felt like we had turnovers that led to easy baskets. It was a little bit of everything. But a 44-point quarter for us defensively, that’s frustrating.

"But it felt like our offense led to some of it, I think a couple guys got hot, made some shots. McConnell is just a force playing with the ball, getting downhill, getting to the paint, finishing, so they had a little bit of everything in the third quarter and we didn’t have an answer for it.”

Hield was the key to that, scoring 16 points in that period on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3 for 4 from behind the three-point line.

But, he didn’t score again in the fourth after that three. Indiana did cut it to 134-127 with 2:06 to go but a trap attempt by Chris Duarte and T.J. McConnell of Jrue Holiday near halfcourt led to a Pacers foul. Holiday made his two free throws to give the Bucks much needed breathing room to hold on.

“Usually when you’re in a trap, somebody reaches, because I’m one of the type to reach in and trap," Holiday said. "Then at that point even if I just go like this and bring my arms up and yell ‘hey!’ – either they’re not going to touch me and I’m still going to have the ball and I’m still going to pass it but a lot of the times they have their hands on me.”

BOX SCORE:Bucks 141, Pacers 131

Antetokounmpo said it didn’t matter to him if the Pacers chose to use that strategy and said he embraced the situation.

“I thought about it while I was out there that I can run away from it or I can just accept it and go to the line and try to knock down my free throws,” he said. “I was like OK, I’m just going to stand here and if they’re going to foul me I’m just waiting for it and then I’m going to walk to the free throw (line) and try to knock it down.”

Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points on 16 of 29 shooting. He went 7 for 18 from the free throw line. He added 12 rebounds and six assists. Holiday finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds. Khris Middleton (17), Pat Connaughton (14), Brook Lopez (15), Jevon Carter (12) and Grayson Allen (10) also reached double figures for the Bucks.

“I think that they maybe lead the league in 20-point comebacks or something like that, so no lead is safe with them,” Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said. “No lead is safe in the NBA, period. And we know they’re going to play hard. That’s their DNA. That’s their identity. That’s what (head coach Rick) Carlisle preaches. That’s how he prepares and obviously I’ve played for Carlisle so I kind of know. Some things we want to clear up and shore up on our own, but credit them to fighting and coming back but we were still able to hold off and make sure we take (a win).”

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Bucks score record 85 points in first half

For the second time in three games the Bucks set a season-high for scoring in a half with an 85-point onslaught in the opening 24 minutes. They scored 45 points in the first quarter and 40 in the second, which according to ESPN Stats and Information was just the second time in franchise history they scored 40 or more points in each of the opening two quarters in a game (Jan. 28, 2020 vs. Washington).

According to WTMJ radio, the 85 points were also a team record for the highest scoring half on the road. Elias Sports noted the Bucks are the first team in league history to score 80 or more points in the first half of consecutive road games – they had 83 in Detroit on Monday.

Milwaukee shot 62.3% from the field (33 for 53) and 52% from behind the three-point line (13 for 25) and made six of their eight free throws. Nine of the 10 players who saw court time scored and Khris Middleton (17), Giannis Antetokounmpo (15), Brook Lopez (10), Jrue Holiday (10) and Jevon Carter (10) all reached double figures.

“The ball is moving, people are knocking down shots," Antetokounmpo said. "I feel like it was such a great energy. I don’t think there was a possession where anybody hold the ball more than like two, three seconds (and) tried to go one-on-one. The ball was moving. Guys was open, a lot of threes, we were able to attack downhill, get easy ones and when you’re out there and there’s so many threats, it’s just hard. It’s hard. You gotta choose your poison.”

They even balanced out their seven turnovers with six offensive rebounds.

It was also the most points the Pacers allowed in a half this season.

Bucks forward Khris Middleton goes up for a shot down low after driving past Pacers guard Chris Duarte (3) during the second quarter Friday night in Indianapolis.
Bucks forward Khris Middleton goes up for a shot down low after driving past Pacers guard Chris Duarte (3) during the second quarter Friday night in Indianapolis.

Khris Middleton has strong first half

The three-time all-star turned in a vintage performance in his third game back from an extended absence.

Middleton played about 15 minutes in each of his first two games back against Detroit and Denver, and again saw 15 minutes of action in three quarters vs. the Pacers and looked the best he had since his debut vs. the Los Angeles Lakers back on Dec. 2 (6 for 11, 17 points, 7 assists).

“I think every time Khris shoots the ball it’s going in, but he made it look easy tonight,” Holiday said. “Kind of got to his spots, made the moves that he wanted to make and knocked it in. I think he was feeling good.”

In an impressive first half, he came off the bench to score 17 points in 11 minutes, making seven of his 10 shots and three free throws. He also had three assists and two rebounds. Middleton looked smooth, getting to his patented fadeaways over smaller defenders Aaron Nesmith and Bennedict Mathurin and playing expertly off screens from Antetokounmpo. He also uncorked a one-handed baseball pass and a quarter-court bounce pass.

“I’ve been feeling good each game so far, just trying to build on each game and I’m on limited minutes right now so my key is to be aggressive while I’m in there,” Middleton said. “Just knowing that I’m on a minute restriction so when I come in I gotta be assertive right away. That’s the only way I’m going to find myself, that’s the only way I’m going to see how I feel. Thankfully I knocked down most of those shots tonight.”

He was 0 for 3 in just under four minutes in the third quarter however. He did not play in the fourth quarter.

“I mean if you’d looked at our box scores it’s pretty apparent 15 is his number right now," Budenholzer said when asked about managing Middleton's minutes.

Bucks release statement on Tyre Nichols

The Bucks organization released a statement on Friday evening on the death of Tyre Nichols, who died on Jan. 10 following a assault by five Memphis police officers on Jan. 7.

“I want to take a second and send thoughts and prayers for Tyre Nichols," Wesley Matthews said as he was ending an interview postgame. "It’s just f---unbelievable. It’s heartbreaking. Just pray for him and his family, friends, loved ones. S---. We gotta do better in this world. We gotta do better. This s--- is out of hand. It’s been out of hand. But this is…yeah. I just wanted to put that out there.

"It’s heartbreaking. As much as we’re talking about basketball right now, I know shockwaves hit this whole locker room. We’re just sick about this. I wanted to make sure that we get that out there. I know the Bucks did, but players (too). S—‘s unacceptable.”

The officers were fired and on Thursday were charged with murder. Video of the incident was released to the public on Friday.

"We are outraged by the deadly beating that Tyre Nichols received from five Memphis police officers," the Bucks statement said. "While the police officers being charged for their heinous actions is an important step for justice, this incident further highlights the need for progress in improving police-community relations. The Bucks remain committed to using our voice and resources to inspire the systemic change that needs to happen in our marginalized communities. Our hearts and prayers go out to Mr. Nichols’ family and friends."

Five numbers

10 Consecutive games Connaughton has made at least 2 three-pointers by going 4 for 6 against the Pacers, a career-long stretch that has seen him shoot 43.5% (30 for 69).

15-2 Bucks record vs. the Pacers since 2018-19.

17-3 Run by the Bucks over the final 3:11 of the first quarter and the first 28 seconds of the second. It stretched a 30-27 lead to 48-30. Middleton scored seven points and had two assists in the stretch for the Bucks. It effectively ended the game.

70 Antetokounmpo’s all-time rank in free throw attempts, passing Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond with his first attempt of the night vs. the Pacers.

75% Shooting by the Pacers (18 for 24) in an explosive third quarter that saw them score 44 points and cut the Bucks lead to 114-99 at the end of it. Indiana scored six points off four Bucks turnovers and raced their way back into the game by pushing the tempo.

Play of the game is Giannis' poster dunk on Oshae Brissett

With the Pacers racing their way back into the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo turned up the speed and power by throwing down a monster dunk over Indiana's 6-foot, 7-inch Oshae Brissett at the 8:35 mark of the third quarter. Grayson Allen got out onto the break but saw Antetokounmpo trailing and dished it off. Antetokounmpo took off from the dotted circle and finished strong through contact.

Allen: "Somebody else got the deflection so the steal kind of fell into my hands and when I saw him to the right of me, kind of thought to give it up early, like right when I got the ball, but instead I kind of wanted to push and see if I could give it to him kind of pass him the ball at the last second when I kind of drew the defenders over. So I was kind of waiting the whole time I was driving knowing I was going to pass it back to him. Then I just saw him take off and I kind of thought for a second he wasn’t going to make, ‘cause he had to stretch for it. But I mean, it was a crazy dunk to just kind of be sitting there looking up at.”

Holiday: “Look man...I wish I could do that.”

Connaughton: "We were way back there. I just stood there like this (opens mouth and puts his hands up). It was the best. Easily the best.”

Antetokounmpo said earlier in the game he, Allen and George Hill were talking about how Antetokounmpo did not dunk the ball earlier in the game – and he said he no longer can get as high anymore. They reminded him about a missed dunk against Washington when he went too high and missed it.

“Then two quarters later I had that dunk and it was a pass from Grayson and he came to me and was like ‘I told you,’” Antetokounmpo said. “I was like, he did. He did tell me. It was a nice play.”

Video of the game is Joe Ingles messing with Bucks broadcast

Bucks forward Joe Ingles is an interesting character when it comes to the media (and to his teammates, honestly) but usually his antics are reserved for off camera moments -- but not Friday night as play-by-play voice Lisa Byington discovered.

Bucks injury report

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (right knee soreness), probable

  • MarJon Beauchamp (right patella tendinitis), questionable

  • AJ Green (left ankle soreness), questionable

  • Bobby Portis (right MCL sprain), out

  • Serge Ibaka (not with team), out

Who do the Bucks play next?

The Bucks head back to Milwaukee and will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night at Fiserv Forum. It is the final matchup of the regular season between the teams, as the Bucks beat the Pelicans 128-119 in New Orleans on Dec. 19. The Pelicans will be without all-star Zion Williamson (hamstring) but will have scorer Brandon Ingram back to pair with point guard C.J. McCollum.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bucks use record scoring first half, 41 points from Giannis to beat Pacers 141-131