Milwaukee Bucks: Antetokounmpos, Ilyasova in Acropolis action

(Photo by Dimitris Lampropoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Dimitris Lampropoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

As the Acropolis Tournament got underway in Athens on Friday, games for Turkey and Greece left no shortage of Milwaukee Bucks representatives in action.

For Milwaukee Bucks fans, Friday offered something of a rare treat in the dead of summer, with not one, not two, but three chances to catch some of the team’s players in action across the globe.

While Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez were in Anaheim on Friday, besting the Spanish national team in USA Basketball’s final game before jetting off for their final World Cup preparations in Australia, three of their Milwaukee teammates were in Athens, Greece going through their own dress rehearsals.

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With the Acropolis Tournament getting underway in Athens, a stellar collection of national teams gathered, including Serbia, Italy and, most importantly from a Bucks’ perspective, Turkey and Greece.

As both national teams approach the final cuts to their squads for the FIBA World Cup in China, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thanasis Antetokounmpo remain key figures on the Greek roster, as does Ersan Ilyasova for Turkey.

On Saturday, those two teams will go head-to-head in what could be the first of multiple clashes between Bucks teammates in the next month or so, but first they matched up against the other two teams involved in the competition on Friday.

In the competition’s opening game, Ilyasova’s Turkey went head-to-head with a Serbia squad that has been tipped by many as one of the true favorites to win it all in the World Cup. Based on the evidence of that game, the Serbians have every reason to be confident too.

Turkey had looked impressive in their own early preparations over the past couple of weeks, but fell foul to a fast start from a talented Serbian team, and essentially could never recover from there.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was a driving force for Serbia with 18 points, with Sacramento Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic close behind him with 17 points. Behind that duo, Serbia consistently maintained a double digit lead for the majority of the game, although Ilyasova was among those who did their best to eat into that lead.

Only Philadelphia 76ers wing Furkan Korkmaz (16 points), scored more than Ilyasova’s 13 points, while the veteran forward also added six rebounds and an assist to his overall contributions on the night.

Still, that wasn’t enough to prevent an 87-72 Serbian victory, meaning the Turks will be eager to bounce back with a win on Saturday.

If they are to do just that, they’ll have to overcome a formidable Greek squad that only added to their increasing momentum with a victory over Italy on Friday.

Following Greece’s decision to cut Kostas Antetokounmpo earlier this week, only the Bucks’ two Antetokounmpo brothers now remain in the squad, and both certainly made their presence felt with their share of highlights in Friday’s matchup with Italy.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Giannis Antetokounmpo came out of the starting blocks in attack mode, and instantly began to assert not only his own individual dominance, but also the dominance of his team.

Along with Giannis, former NBA point guard Nick Calathes showed his worth in orchestrating much of Greece’s offense and occasionally resorting to flashy passes to find his teammates. For Giannis, the approach was much more rudimentary for the most part, simply as it was immediately apparent that the Italians had no answers for his physicality.

Able to simply bully his way to the rim and score at will, Giannis racked up 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in just 19 minutes of action. That low minutes total may well prove to be just as significant as Giannis’ box score contributions, as the chances of Greece’s success at the World Cup are undoubtedly tied to how fresh they can keep their superstar player.

Beyond Giannis, Thanasis Antetokounmpo was also immensely impressive as his insertion into the game near the end of the second quarter led to a colossal injection of energy that manifested in a standout stretch of play for him on an individual level.

Frequently making baseline cuts and functioning as a roller in the pick-and-roll, Thanasis benefited from a flurry of open dunks, but also flexed his muscles defensively with a spectacular chase down block.

All told, Thanasis chipped in with eight points, three rebounds and a block, and an encouragement that on the whole will offer encouragement to Greek fans ahead of the World Cup, but also Bucks fans eager to see what he can offer next season.

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Next up is a Saturday head-to-head between the Antetokounmpos and Ilyasova, as Greece and Turkey face off in a 12.30 pm CT tip. For those interested in tuning in, the game will be streamed live on FIBA’s YouTube channel.