The Milwaukee Bucks posted a monster 85-point haul in the first half as they survived a fast-finishing Indiana Pacers to win 141-131.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was at his brilliant best throughout, scoring 41 points and chalking up 12 rebounds and six assists as he celebrated his confirmation as an NBA All-Star team captain.
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But it was a thunderous dunk in the fourth quarter that got fans up on their feet.
With just under nine minutes remaining, a misplaced Pacers pass 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 arc, he took a backwards glance and saw Antetokounmpo lurking on the outside.
Having attracted three defenders with him, Allen laid the ball off to Antetokounmpo who then took flight from just past the charity stripe and slammed down a dunk while going through Pacers forward Oshae Brissett.
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The fans inside the Gainbridge Fieldhouse were left stunned at what they’d seen as the Bucks bench erupted in celebration.
Indiana had sliced the deficit to eight points with just over four minutes remaining, trying to make the most of Antetokoumpo’s troubles at the free-throw line by fouling him repeatedly.
The Milwaukee star helped fend them off by making five free throws in the space of a minute and while the Pacers got the gap to seven points with 2:06 to play, they would get no closer.
Jrue Holiday scored 23 points and handed out nine assists for the Bucks. Myles Turner led the Pacers with 24 points.
Antetokounmpo’s dominant performance came a day after he was confirmed as a starter and team captain for next month’s All-Star game, as the top vote-getter from the Eastern Conference.
It will be the third time the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player has had the honour, after leading teams in the mid-season exhibition in 2019 and 2020.
The win improves the Bucks’ season record to 32-17 while the Pacers slipped to 24-27.
MEMPHIS HONOUR TYRE NICHOLS
The Grizzlies fell 111-100 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis, where the game was preceded by a moment of silence to honour the memory of Tyre Nichols – the Memphis man whose fatal beating has 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 on the heels of an 11-game winning streak.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said before the game his team had been saddened by the “devastating” news emerging from Memphis about Nichols during their wee-k-ong road trip.
“It’s been hard to process,” Jenkins said.
“There’s a lot of emotion. We can’t wait to get back home to put our arms around everyone in Memphis as they struggle 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 stopped on suspicion of reckless driving, sparked concern around the NBA.
The league and multiple teams as well as individual players posted statements offering condolences to Nichols’ family and urging calm protests as police in Memphis released video footage on Friday of the beating.
Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. addressed a tweet before the game 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 instance, the NBA family remains committed to partnering with advocates, policymakers and law enforcement to work toward 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 victory over the Orlando Magic, saying “this is just crazy.”
GIDDEY STARS AGAIN AS THUNDER STUN CAVS
In Oklahoma City, the Thunder capitalised on the absence of Cleveland star Donovan Mitchell to surprise 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 fight to get themselves into the post-season play-in tournament.
Aussie star Josh Giddey played another crucial supporting role, finishing with 15 points from six-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and three assists.
It means Giddey has scored at least 10 points in all 13 games this January. According to Bally Sports Oklahoma, the Australian guard has had his highest-scoring month of his career, averaging 18.6 points at 52 per cent from the field, as well as 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
Giddey was particularly influential in the second half against Cleveland, consistently pushing the ball up the floor at pace to put the Cavaliers defence under pressure.
“We were getting stops, so that allows our offence to get going,” Giddey told reporters post-game. “I think when we‘ve got five guys on the floor that can handle the ball and make plays, it’s a luxury. I think the more we take advantage of that, the better we’re going to be.
“I was just trying to get the tempo going, trying to push the pace in transition – whether it was for myself or for teammates – and we were getting good looks.
“We built a good lead early in that fourth (quarter) and pushing the pace was part of that. But I think when we got set in the half court we executed, we got stops down the other end. Both sides of the ball in that last 12 minutes were really good.”
WARRIORS PULL 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 polish off the Toronto Raptors 129-117.
Curry also handed out 11 of the Warriors’ 40 assists in an entertaining shoot-out that saw the hosts finally pull away with a 31-point fourth quarter.
Jonathan Kuminga scored 15 points to lead Golden State’s reserves, who outscored their Raptors counterparts 39-26.
Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who lost O.G. Anunoby to a wrist injury in the first half when he came down hard on his left side when he was fouled as he soared toward the basket.
Pacers 131-141 Bucks
Timberwolves 111-100 Grizzlies
Thunder 112-100 Cavaliers
Heat 110-105 Magic
Warriors 129-117 Raptors