Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Bucks suffered a pair of surprising losses, dropping home games to the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors — the latter of which came without Giannis Antetokounmpo. On Friday night, with their two-time MVP back in the lineup, they took out their frustration on the Brooklyn Nets.
The Bucks never trailed on the night, and led by as much as 24 as they cruised to a 121-109 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. It wasn’t quite the playoff rematch everyone wanted with both teams shorthanded, but this was still a statement performance by the Bucks.
Despite playing just 11 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Giannis led the way as per usual. He finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists on 11-of-17 from the field, and made sure the Bucks buried the Nets in the second half.
This was the seventh straight 30-point outing for Giannis against the Nets dating back to the playoffs last season, which is his longest such streak against any opponent. But if there’s any sort of extra motivation when he faces Kevin Durant and the Nets — which seems likely — Giannis won’t admit as much.
“I don’t take it personal,” Giannis said. “I just try to run my own race. Try to help my own team, try to make my own team great. Obviously there’s a lot of excitement in the air when you play Brooklyn. But at the end of the day I go out there and try to enjoy the game. K.D. is the best player in the world, he’s showed it in the past, he’s showing it right now. I’m just trying to get better.”
While this was another stellar all-around performance from Giannis, and his scoring streak against the Nets made headlines, his passing is what really stood out. He’s always been a strong playmaker, but with Jrue Holiday sidelined in the health and safety protocols, he had to put extra emphasis on getting his teammates involved on Friday. He did just that, finishing with nine assists — seven of which led to 3-pointers.
“I knew that I had to get my teammates involved, but at the same time I had to get myself involved in the game,” Giannis said. “I was just trying to run the right play. Run some actions for Khris, actions for Rodney, actions for Bobby, just get them the ball as much as possible. That’s what Jrue does, and now I kinda see how hard this job is, because you gotta get us involved and be aggressive at the same time. That’s hard.”
Some of the passes he was making, especially down the stretch, were just ridiculous. An absurdly long Eurostep kick-out to Bobby Portis; a driving, spinning, kick-out to to Jordan Nwora. But the pièce de résistance came in the middle of the fourth quarter. He came down the floor, turned his back to the basket and was about to initiate a post-up on Kevin Durant when he suddenly whipped a look-away pass to the opposite corner. It hit Portis right in his hands and led to another wide-open 3.
“He’s always open because the people that are guarding him are big man, and on drives you gotta help,” Giannis said. “So he’s wide open. I know that… I know Bobby’s open, I just gotta wait for the guy to move. Once I see the guy’s moving, that’s when I can deliver the pass.”
Thanks to Giannis, the Bucks are now just percentage points behind the Nets for second place in the Eastern Conference. And, what’s more, they’re now 2-0 against the Nets on the season. Now, they need to win just one of the final two games between the teams to secure the season series — an edge that could be vital come playoff seeding time.