The Milwaukee Bucks recorded a whopping 85 points in the first half as they survived a quick finish by the Indiana Pacers to win 141-131.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was in his prime, scoring 41 points and racking up 12 rebounds and six assists as he celebrated his confirmation as captain of the NBA All-Star team.
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But it was a thunderous dunk in the fourth quarter that brought the fans to their feet.
With just under nine minutes to go, a misplaced pass by the Pacers ended up in the hands of the Bucks’ Grayson Allen.
The former Duke product drove down the court, with Antetokounmpo a few steps behind him.
Just before Allen entered the goal, he looked back to see Antetokounmpo lurking on the outside.
Having drawn three defenders with him, Allen fed the ball to Antetokounmpo, who then took flight just beyond the charity strip and hit a dunk while past Pacers forward Oshae Brissett.
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Fans inside the Gainbridge Fieldhouse were stunned by what they had seen as the Bucks’ bench erupted in celebration.
Indiana had cut the deficit to eight points with just over four minutes to go, trying to make the most of Antetokoumpo’s troubles at the free throw line by fouling him repeatedly.
The Milwaukee star helped fend off them by making five free throws in the space of a minute and though the Pacers opened the gap to seven points with 2:06 left, they wouldn’t get any closer.
Jrue Holiday scored 23 points and dished out nine assists for the Bucks. Myles Turner led the Pacers with 24 points.
Antetokounmpo’s dominating performance came a day after he was confirmed as the starter and team captain for next month’s All-Star Game as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
It will be the third time the two-time NBA MVP has held the honor, after leading teams at the midseason showcase in 2019 and 2020.
The win improves the Bucks’ season record to 32-17 while the Pacers dropped to 24-27.
MEMPHIS HONOR NICHOLS TIRES
The Grizzlies fell 111-100 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis, where the game was preceded by a moment of silence to honor the memory of Tire Nichols, the Memphis man whose fatal beating led to murder charges against five police officers.
Anthony Edwards scored 25 points to lead the Timberwolves.
Ja Morant had a triple-double of 27 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for Memphis, but the Grizzlies finished their road trip 0-5 after an 11-game winning streak.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said before the game that his team had been saddened by the “devastating” news that came out of Memphis about Nichols during his weeklong trip.
“It’s been hard to process,” Jenkins said.
“There is a lot of emotion. We can’t wait to come home to hug everyone in Memphis as they grapple with the senseless loss of life.”
The death of Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, after he was beaten by five black officers after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving has raised concerns in the NBA.
The league and several teams, as well as individual players, released statements offering condolences to Nichols’ family and urging quiet protests as Memphis police released video footage Friday of the beating.
Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. sent out a pregame tweet to Nichols’ family saying, “My teammates and I are and have been paying attention. We are with you.”
The NBA called the images “horrifying” in a statement.
“While there have been steps toward accountability in this case, the NBA family remains committed to partnering with advocates, legislators and law enforcement to work on solutions to the issues we continue to face,” the league said.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke about Nichols before his team’s 110-105 win over the Orlando Magic, saying “this is crazy.”
GIDDEY STARTS AGAIN AS THUNDER STUN CAVS
In Oklahoma City, the Thunder took advantage of the absence of Cleveland star Donovan Mitchell to stun the Cavaliers 112-100.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 35 points, his fourth straight game with at least 30 points as Oklahoma City battles to reach the postseason play-in tournament.
Australian star Josh Giddey played another crucial support role, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and three assists.
It means Giddey has scored at least 10 points in all 13 games in January. According to Bally Sports Oklahoma, the Australian guard has had the highest scoring month of his career, averaging 18.6 points on 52% shooting from the field, as well as 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
Giddey was particularly influential in the second half against Cleveland, constantly pushing the ball down the court at a pace to pressure the Cavaliers’ defense.
“We were getting stops, which allows our offense to get going,” Giddey told reporters after the game. “I think when we have five guys on the court who can handle the ball and make plays, it’s a luxury. I think the more we take advantage of that, the better we will be.
“I was just trying to keep up, trying to pick up the pace in transition, either for myself or for my teammates, and we got good looks.
“We built a good lead early in that quarter (fourth) and picking up the pace was part of that. But I think when we set up in the middle of the court we executed, we got saves at the other end. Both sides of the ball in the last 12 minutes were really good.”
JERSEY WARRIORS AWAY
In San Francisco, Stephen Curry scored 35 points and Klay Thompson added 29 as the NBA champion Golden State Warriors pulled away late to finish off the Toronto Raptors 129-117.
Curry also dished out 11 of the Warriors’ 40 assists in an entertaining shootout that saw the hosts finally pull away with a 31-point fourth quarter.
Jonathan Kuminga scored 15 points to lead the Golden State reserves, who outscored their Raptors counterparts 39-26.
Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who lost OG Anunoby to a wrist injury in the first half when he fell hard on his left side when he was fouled while going up to the basket.
Pacers 131-141 Dollars
timber wolves 111-100 Grizzlies
Thunder 112-100 horsemen
Heat 110-105 Magic
warriors 129-117 raptors