The Milwaukee Bucks earned their fourth straight win on Saturday night, outscoring the Dallas Mavericks 132-125 in a blistering encounter at Fiserv Forum Arena. This was the Bucks’ first game against a Western Conference opponent, and the Mavericks are tied for the best record in the conference. The loss led to 9-4 while the Bucks improved to 9-4.
“It was a gutsy win,” Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said. “You need these wins to build character for the future and our guys will know what it’s like to play in games like this and come away with a win.”
The Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back, following a win in Charlotte on Friday. The Mavericks have been absent from the games since their victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
Square score:Bucks 132, Mavericks 125
Star players take center stage with the Bucks and Mavericks
Saturday night’s game featured four of the NBA’s best players – Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, and Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving – and the quartet took turns imposing their will on the game.
“I mean, obviously when we see each other we know what kind of night it’s going to be,” Lillard said. “Ultimately you want your team to come out on top. But I think all of us, especially me, Kyrie and Giannis – Luca is a bit younger than us – but we’ve done it for a long time now.
In the first half, Antetokounmpo and Doncic took center stage. The MVP candidates nearly went basket-for-basket, with Antetokounmpo scoring 20 points on 15 shots and Doncic 17 on 14 shots in a fast-paced half.
Antetokounmpo sliced up the Mavericks’ porous defense with Eurosteps and turnovers, scoring all of his first-half points in the paint on 10-of-11 shooting. Nine of those scores came at the rim.
Dončić hit 3 3-pointers and added six in the paint while dishing out five assists. For his part, Antetokounmpo said that he was not preoccupied with this moment.
“I’m trying to be OK with myself and the game I can play and the way I can help my teammates and try to play to my strengths as much as I can,” Antetokounmpo said. “The minute you start comparing and you’re trying to play or compete with three of the best shooters in the league; Kyrie can hit any shot he wants, Luka can make every move he wants, Damian can shoot from the weird logo.
“Like, how can I go from basket to basket with these guys? I can’t. I just have to play my game, rebound the ball, play some defense, attack as much as I can, create opportunities for my teammates, and play to my strengths.
Meanwhile, Irving was 3-for-10 for six points and Lillard was 3-for-7 for 10 points in the first 24 minutes.
Dončić was able to keep up the pace in the third quarter to go on a 13-0 run to give the Mavericks a 71-60 lead. The Dallas guard scored 10 points in that period, while Antetokounmpo missed his first four shots of the quarter.
Irving got going in the third quarter as well, going 7-for-10 for 18 points. Lillard did not shine as brightly as the other three, but he gradually built momentum and scored 17 goals in the second half to help the Bucks overcome a 12-point deficit.
There was also an 85-second fourth quarter in which all four players scored each point. But it was Antetokounmpo who made two free throws to give the Bucks the lead after Doncic missed two.
“It’s not so much about the stats, it’s about who can come up big in the big moments and win the game,” Lillard said. “I’ve had a lot of games where I score 50 points and nine assists or whatever, and at the end sometimes it looks like we didn’t win.
“I think that’s what we got tonight. These guys are great scorers, two of the best scorers in the history of the game and they see the ball go over so many times (and) at that point there’s nothing you can do about it. So it’s about getting the stops when you need to.” “To it and being able to execute offensively. I thought we got a couple of stops when we needed them for those guys and we were able to execute and win the game. That was the most important thing.”
Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 40 points on 18-of-26 shooting. He also had 14 rebounds and seven assists. Lillard scored 27 goals and provided 12 assists.
“I think that’s what the fans wanted — just to see Dame and Giannis, who are elite at the end of the game,” Griffin said. “And the fourth quarter has to be your best quarter. Especially when you play a great team like Dallas. I mean, they’re well-coached, they have superior players. So that was huge. Especially to come down and find a way to come back and win that game was huge.”
Irving scored 39 of 16-of-29 shooting while Doncic scored 35 of 15-of-26 shooting.
Irving agreed with Lillard that there is little fun to be had in games like this.
“Yes, absolutely,” Irving said. “It’s very exciting when you go up against other superstars in the league. You want to play your best. You want to play well against them individually but ultimately you want to come away with a win. And they did that tonight. So you have to give it to them.” “Credit. They fired at the right time. When Luca and I have things going the way they did tonight and everyone else is busy, it makes our job a lot easier and we feel better as a team. We’ve done it in spurts but we just have to keep building on our consistency when it comes to our possessions.”
Pat Connaughton and Brook Lopez clinch Bucks victory
Yes, the lights were bright with stars. But down the stretch, the Bucks also got two free throws from Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton hit two 3-pointers to seal the win as the Dallas Stars continued to make and miss shots.
The last Dallas player other than its two stars to score was Tim Hardaway Jr. with just over a minute gone in the fourth quarter.
“Especially when we were able to take the lead, we didn’t want to give up all three,” Griffin said. “If you give up the three, they’re back in the game. We went for poison, and that was going head-to-head with Kyrie. He hits hard, gets in the paint, has great body control, just out of this world. That’s what he does. But if you Sending multiple bodies sometimes and they start spraying (passing) around and the three ball gets them back into the game. So you have to pick and choose sometimes, and maybe if we’re playing from the back with a few (left) minutes in the game, we’ll probably have to run multiple “They hit him and tried to take the ball out of his hand, but we were able to score and maintain the lead.”
It was just a total team effort,” Lopez added. It started at the point of attack where our guards were obviously guarding them, and then those guys just knew they were going to do their best, put all their energy into it and trusted that guys like Giannis and Pat and everyone would be behind them.
On the offensive side, Lopez gave the Bucks a 122-117 lead with 3 minutes and 38 seconds left in the game, with a strong move to the basket that led to two free throws. Connaughton then knocked down a three at the 2:12 mark and another with 1:05 remaining to effectively seal the victory.
“Those two guys, they demand and get a lot of attention, and rightfully so, and to their credit, they’ve been able to get out of it,” Griffin said of Antetokounmpo and Lillard. “Some stars aren’t like that. They want to take those shots regardless of whether they have two or three people hanging over them. I thought it was just high-character basketball from Giannis and Dame.”
It was quite the end for Connaughton, who played virtually the final 21 minutes of the game.
“Pat is a very impressive physical specimen, so I wouldn’t rule him out too much, but that was very impressive,” Lopez said. “I didn’t know it was 20 minutes but wow. He definitely did what he could, did his job, made it difficult for Kyrie and Luka, running, jumping, blocking shots and getting rebounds the way he does, getting down the floor and still having the energy and composure.” To get high. And he stays high and hits those threes the way he does.
Connaughton scored 16 points while Lopez finished with 12 points.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing with a right knee issue
After one day of playing with the remains of a strain in his right calf, Antetokounmpo was listed on the injury report Saturday with a different ailment — dealing with a right knee injury. He had left knee surgery in the offseason.
Antetokounmpo missed the team’s win in Toronto on Wednesday due to a strain in his right calf, but he played 28 minutes on Friday in the Bucks’ win over Charlotte. He said that he was not 100% healthy, but he expressed his hope that the illness would continue to improve as the days passed. He appears to have been no worse for wear when it comes to his calf, but this is the first time this season that he has been listed with a knee issue.
His knee looked good, too, especially when he raced past the Mavericks defense for a layup and hounded Derrick Jones Jr. for a brutal open-court block in the first half.
Giannis’ schedule:Antetokounmpo’s injuries during his NBA career and how quickly he came back from them
Khris Middleton has held up with injury management
Unsurprisingly, the Bucks ruled out Khris Middleton against the Mavericks. He is still on a minutes restriction and played 21 minutes against Charlotte. He has yet to play in a consecutive game this season. He missed the first game of those sets on two other occasions, but the Hornets game was part of the in-season tournament and there was focus on that contest.
3-2 The Bucks’ record against teams with a record of .500 or better in playing history.
3 Corner three-pointers by Dallas forward Grant Williams. Williams was 4-for-10 from behind the three-point line and scored 14 points, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten tormenting Bucks fans and Fiserv Forum with a layup in the 2022 playoffs as a member of the Boston Celtics.
4 First-round picks in the 2023 draft class to try — and fail — to score on Lopez at the rim after a rejection by Dallas’ Derek Lively II (12th pick) in the first quarter.
14-0 In the second quarter, the Bucks succeeded in overturning a deficit from 42-38 to 52-42. That stretch included a spin pass from Andre Jackson Jr. to AJ Green for a 3-pointer and then a drop ball in the quarter court from Jackson to Malik Beasley.
7,009 Career rebounds for Antetokounmpo. Only 11 other active players have more. By reaching 7,000 rebounds, he became the youngest player (28 years and 347 days) to record more than 16,000, more than 7,000 and more than 3,000 assists. Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett was previously the youngest at 29 years, 199 days.
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