Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers | Giannis and the Bucks led by as much as 41 before cruising to a 119-91 win

                        Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks deliver strong statement to rest of the league with dominant win over Clippers
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MILWAUKEE -- A few minutes into the third quarter on Friday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo set a screen for Wesley Matthews at the top of the key, turned and rolled to the basket. As he made his way into the space in front of him, Matthews hit him in stride with a nifty bounce pass, and it was showtime. Giannis gathered steam, put down one dribble and exploded to the rim to place Ivica Zubac on a poster with a ferocious slam. 

It was a perfect play for a perfect night, as the Milwaukee Bucks dominated the Los Angeles Clippers, turning the much-anticipated matchup between pre-season title favorites into a laugher. The Bucks couldn't quite make it three 40-point wins in a row at home, settling instead for a 28-point victory at 119-91. But the fact that it was even a possibility -- their biggest lead was 41 -- shows the extent to which they were in control. 

Giannis celebrated his 25th birthday in style, using a number of highlight reel plays to lead the way with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, as the Bucks secured their 14th win in a row, and improved to 20-3 on the season. They've now won 18 of their last 19 games, and have tied the 1971-72 and 1972-73 Bucks squads for the best start in franchise history. 

"Obviously, tonight was one of our best efforts on both sides of the ball," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "To do what we did defensively and offensively is great. We're getting closer to 48 minutes of what kind of team we want to be."

If that was the Bucks as a still unfinished product, it's a scary thought for the rest of the league. They completely dominated all aspects of the game against the Clippers. A leading man? You can't ask for a better one than Giannis, who was terrific as always. Depth? Seven different bench players combined to pour in 50 points. Shooting? How about 14 3-pointers. Defense? No problem. They forced 21 turnovers with a frantic, physical effort on that side of the floor. Even as the Clippers managed to keep things somewhat competitive until early in the third quarter, there was never a question as to who was the better team. 

"We're just playing great right now, playing good basketball," Giannis said. "I think as coach said when he came into the locker room, we're disciplined. Teams get bored and tired, we don't do that. We're just playing great. We gotta keep learning, keep getting better, keep going out there playing hard. It doesn't matter if we have two wins in a row, 14 wins in a row, we just gotta keep playing together and keep being humble."

Staying humble might be the right mindset for the Bucks to take, but after the way they played on Friday night, you couldn't fault them if they started feeling themselves. It's one thing to run rampant against the talent-less Charlotte Hornets, or the hapless New York Knicks as they did in their past two home games, but to do it against another contender is another thing all together. 

"I would say they played great," Kawhi Leonard said. "They did a good job playing defense and making shots on the other end." For a man of few words, that was high praise. 

The Bucks are now tied with the Lakers for the best record in the league, have the second-best offense, the best defense, the best net rating, and are led by the best player in the world. And after their statement win on Friday night over the Clippers, it just might be time to add another superlative to that list: best team in the league. 

LeBron: 'Always special' to match up with Melo

LeBron: 'Always special' to match up with Melo

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nearly two decades after they met at a USA Basketball camp, LeBron James, playing for his third NBA team, and Carmelo Anthony, playing for his fifth, matched up once again in the Los Angeles Lakers' 136-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

James got the better of Anthony, putting up 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds to the Blazers star's 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals.

"It's always special," James, 34, said of facing Anthony, 35, in 2019 after they first connected as teenagers. "I can't even lie, it's always special to be on the floor with a brother of mine."

James and Anthony averaged an identical 24 points per game at the 2001 USA Basketball Men's Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs. James' team won the tournament, providing a precursor to the success he'd have over Anthony during their pro careers, with James' teams making nine NBA Finals appearances and winning three championships while Anthony's teams never advanced past the conference finals.

The two paired up in countless All-Star games and won two Olympic gold medals together in Beijing and London (as well as a bronze in Athens), as their careers stayed interwoven from the moment they were selected with two of the top three picks in the 2003 draft.

"We got so much history," James said. "We've been competing for a long time, we've been on the same team with the Olympics and then just our brotherhood. That's my brother, man. It's always great to be able to compete and just be on the same floor -- period. No matter if it's, like I said, with Team USA, when we're teammates or just competing on our respective clubs."

With the win, James improved to 20-14 in their head-to-head battles in the regular season. In those games, James is averaging 25.9 points, 7.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds, and Anthony is averaging 22 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

"It was good," Anthony said of Friday's reunion. "It's always fun going against him, playing against him in Year 17 for both of us. Being able to compete against one another at this level, and in now our 17th year, you can't ask for more than that."

James shot 2-of-3 for four points with Anthony as his primary defender in the half court on Friday, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. When the matchup was flipped, Anthony went 0-for-2.

Not that either of them will focus on the stats from the game. Anthony told ESPN that the pair caught up over dinner Thursday, and basketball was hardly the focus of the conversation.

Anthony said that he values James' friendship, but after he was released by the Houston Rockets after 10 games last season, there was plenty on his mind besides imagining what transpired Friday and taking the court with James again.

"I seriously didn't think about basketball, to be honest with you," Anthony said. "It was kind of hard to think about basketball and going up against guys and things like that. It was kind of hard to."

James and the 20-3 Lakers will move on from Friday, continuing their pursuit of a championship, while Anthony and the 9-14 Blazers have more modest immediate goals of getting back on the right side of .500.

But for a night, at least, the pair got to turn back the clock and fall back into the matchup that has entertained basketball fans for years.

Said Lakers coach Frank Vogel: "It's always good to see guys that have had such decorated careers that came into the league together, that have become friends, have an opportunity to compete for a game that matters."

McCollum backs Stotts after coach's 1st ejection

McCollum backs Stotts after coach's 1st ejection

PORTLAND -- After a game that saw Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts ejected for the first time in his NBA coaching career, Blazers guard CJ McCollum called the officiating in Friday's 136-113 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers "very inconsistent all night."

"We appreciate him supporting us," McCollum said. "We're not a team that goes out and complains, but if stuff is blatantly obvious, you can only just run back down the court so many times when you're like, 'All right, this is getting out of control. This is ridiculous.'"

Asked when he'd been ejected before, Stotts had to go back to a game early in his career at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, California. Friday marked his first ejection in 880 games as an NBA head coach, which had been the longest stretch without an ejection by any current head coach, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers is now the active leader, at 514 games.

Stotts' ejection came after a play late in the third quarter, when Portland forward Kent Bazemore was called for a shooting foul on Anthony Davis. Although Davis tumbled into the first row of seats, landing in front of Blazers chair Jody Allen, replays showed that happened due to Davis' stumbling on his landing rather than contact from Bazemore.

"Tells you the type of night it was," McCollum said. "He [Stotts] doesn't just freak out for no reason. He doesn't do that. Kent runs past a guy, doesn't touch him. ... Would you be mad?"

McCollum was called for a technical foul, his second of the season, earlier in the third quarter after his shot was blocked by Danny Green.

"I was clearly fouled," McCollum said. "He hit me in the head, and they didn't call it, so I let [referee Leon Wood] know that he missed the call. He didn't appreciate it."

Giannis and the Bucks clearly had something waiting for Kawhi

Giannis and the Bucks clearly had something waiting for Kawhi

MILWAUKEE - On any given night, Giannis Antetokounmpo succeeds at suspending fans' disbelief and completing the unthinkable.

Antetokounmpo has levitated on blocks. He has spiked balls into the Fiserv Forum stands with superman strength.

On Friday night, Antetokounmpo came as close to flying as a human can get - soaring over LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac and clobbering him with a gasp-worthy dunk to highlight a 119-91 Bucks win to improve to an NBA-best 20-3 record.

These are the games that the "Greek Freak" revels in.

"Now he is eating players," LA coach Doc Rivers said, cracking a smile. "Great players do that. They understand when someone gets the best of them or a team gets the best of them, they don't cry about it. They look at it and say, I've got to get better."


Giannis enjoying his birthday by posterizing Zubac

Giannis Antetokounmpo has no problem dunking on Ivica Zubac.

On the court, Antetokounmpo believes in serving piping hot platters of revenge. He was determined to seek retribution over Kawhi Leonard - the player most responsible for sending Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks home in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals as a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Antetokounmpo already used his animus to overpower the Raptors on November 2nd, scoring a then-season best 36 points. After the game, he said that he had "a lot of motivation" to beat the defending champions, but they were "obviously a different team." They were missing the man Antetokounmpo craved to play against the most: Leonard.

Friday wasn't the first time the Bucks had faced the Clippers this year. Milwaukee had already traveled to Staples Center and beat the Clippers there. But at the time, Paul George had yet to debut after offseason shoulder surgery and Leonard was taking the night off to load manage, returning to action the following night in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers.

"We want to be one of the best teams in the league, and to be that, you have to face the best teams in the league at their best," Antetokounmpo said ahead of Friday's rematch with the Clippers.

In some ways, Zubac was a surrogate for his teammate, Leonard. Antetokounmpo and Leonard did not go head-to-head often, so instead, Antetokounmpo unleashed elsewhere. In other ways, Zubac was just a guy in Antetokounmpo's way. Don't get in Antetokounmpo's way.

The first half lacked the razzle-dazzle expected of a matchup between two of the best players in the league. Antetokounmpo scored just 10 points on 4-of-10 field goals and Leonard's first six shot attempts were from at least 12 feet from the basket. Milwaukee's first half lead wasn't built by Antetokounmpo manhandling defenders and skillfully bullying his way to the rim, but rather by Milwaukee's second unit.

With just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter and the Clippers leading by two, Antetokounmpo sauntered over to the bench. Without him, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and built a double-digit advantage. He returned with a minute and a half left and the Bucks up by 11. Overall, the Bucks were outscored by 10 points in Antetokounmpo's 16 first half minutes, while the Bucks outscored the Clippers by 19 in the 8:44 that Antetokounmpo was off the floor.


Bucks hit 14 3-pointers to rout Clippers

Bucks light up the Clippers with 3-pointers notably from Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews, and Pat Connaughton.

"I don't know what word I would use to describe his first half, but it wasn't what we've come to expect from Giannis," Mike Budenholzer said. "We are so spoiled. We felt like he was human - he just kind of had an ordinary first half. But he's not going to stand for that very long and he came out and quickly turned things in the third quarter. That was the punch we needed to throw back."

Budenholzer saw what he needed to from Antetokounmpo within a span of the first 4:13 of the second half:

  • A running layup on George that drew a foul

  • A sideline out of bounds alley-oop from Khris Middleton after Antetokonmpo lost Moe Harkless

  • The dunk on Zubac after rolling off a handoff to Wesley Matthews

  • A 3-pointer that forced the Clippers to call a timeout

Antetokounmpo finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes. He is the only player to record 4,000 rebounds and 2,000 assists by age 25 and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player with four straight 25-point games while playing fewer than 30 minutes.

"Some of the stuff he do is just surreal," Eric Bledsoe said of Antetokounmpo. "There are countless plays he makes that you just don't see normally. I am glad to be on his team."

It is tempting to use the Bucks' win as fodder for an argument that the Bucks will be the NBA Champions. The Clippers, after all, are considered by many to be a title favorite at best and a Western conference finalist at worst. While it is certainly possible Milwaukee walks away on top, it is also a good time to remember that the Bucks beat Leonard and the Raptors three times in four meetings during the 2018-19 regular season.

That's the magic of Leonard - he turns it on in a second without any warning and does it all while keeping the same expression he would have if he had to tell you that your dog is ill. The Clippers and Bucks will not face off again unless they meet in the 2020 NBA Finals and the Finals is where Leonard historically is unrelenting.

For now, the Bucks will take this win over Leonard's team - their 14th in a row, Milwaukee's longest since the NBA-ABA merger.

"We got to keep learning and keep getting better," Antetokounmpo said. "Keep going out there playing hard. Doesn't matter if you have two wins in a row, 14 wins in a row. We just got to keep playing together and keep being humble."


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