At this point in the season, all eyes in Milwaukee are on Giannis Antetokounmpo.a
That’s not to say he hasn’t been the center of attention from the beginning, but with the 7-29 Bucks in undeniable freefall, the rookie is the reason many fans remain tuned in.
After two consecutive lackluster performances, Antetokounmpo returned to form Saturday, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a team-high 38 minutes. He committed four turnovers and shot just 5-of-12 from the field, but it was easily one of the most encouraging performances of his young career. Not only did Giannis contribute across the board, he did it while spending much of the night matched up with Kevin Durant. Antetokounmpo has drawn comparisons to Durant, who he calls his idol, and he showed Saturday that those lofty expectations may not be so far off.
But he also showed that he has a long way to go before he’s mentioned in the same breath, let alone conversation, as the league’s current scoring leader. Durant led Oklahoma City to the 16-point victory with 33 points, 10 boards, seven assists and a block in 40 minutes. He also converted 15-of-17 attempts from the free throw line. Serge Ibaka added 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Thunder, while Jeremy Lamb contributed 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
The Bucks were led by 16 points apiece from Luke Ridnour and O.J. Mayo. The pair combined to shoot 8-of-13 from three and 11-of-22 overall. Brandon Knight chipped in 13 points and four assists but connected on just 1-of-8 three-point attempts. Khris Middleton scored just eight points and struggled to a 3-of-14 shooting night.
Both teams struggled out of the gate, as Durant missed his first eight shots and Oklahoma City clung to a 14-10 lead after the initial period. The lead was just three at halftime, as Milwaukee outscored the Thunder 25-24 in the second. Larry Sanders was ejected in the second quarter after elbowing Steven Adams. Sanders finished with just four rebounds in seven minutes, as he missed his only field goal attempt.
“It’s disturbing. He just has to be smarter. He can’t get baited into that type of activity,” Larry Drew said after the game.
Oklahoma City was able to pull away for good in the third quarter, outscoring Milwaukee 39-27 behind Durant’s 14 points in the period. Durant was fouled on a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in the quarter, and his three free throws gave the Thunder a 77-62 lead. The Bucks made a brief run in the final quarter, as back-to-back Mayo threes trimmed the deficit to nine, but Oklahoma City called a timeout and was able to thwart the comeback attempt.
– John Henson missed his seventh straight game as he continues to recover from a lower leg injury suffered Dec. 27 against the Nets. He was initially expected to return this weekend but will instead aim to suit up Monday in Toronto.
– Caron Butler was a DNP-CD one night after playing just eight minutes in a loss to Chicago. Drew did not state a reason for Butler’s lack of playing time – it’s unknown if he’s dealing with an undisclosed injury – but his rotations have been erratic all season, so it’s likely nothing to read too far into.
– …However, Gary Neal was also a DNP-CD for the third game in a row. Reports surfaced earlier in the week that Milwaukee is looking to move the 29-year-old, who has struggled to fit in with the Bucks. Neal got into a heated verbal altercation with Larry Sanders after last Saturday’s loss to Phoenix – the last game in which Neal has played.
– Milwuakee’s rebounding has steadily improved to respectability after being a complete atrocity for the first month of the season, but Milwaukee was out-rebounded 58-40 overall and 21-13 offensively Saturday. The absence of Henson and Sanders (for most of the game) is much to blame, as well as Oklahoma City’s standing as the league’s best rebounding team (46.7 per game).
– Undoubtedly Giannis Antetokounmpo’s biggest highlight of the night was this MONSTER block on Kevin Durant in the third quarter (via Bucksschmucks):
Points: Durant (33), Ridnour/Mayo (16)
Rebounds: Ibaka (17), Antetokounmpo (11)
Assists: Durant (7), Antetokounmpo/Ridnour (5)
Blocks: Ibaka (3) Antetokounmpo (2)