Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the midst of one of the best scoring stretches of his career.
However, making the defensive stops in clutch moments is something the two-time league MVP relishes. He will look to make his mark on both ends again when his Milwaukee Bucks play host to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.
“It’s great when you go against the best in the world down the stretch,” said Antetokounmpo, who played a major role Sunday in the Bucks’ 105-100 comeback win over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I love just taking that individual pride in guarding the best players.”
Antetokounmpo, who scored 36 points and added 14 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots, helped Milwaukee finish off the Clippers with a 9-0 run to close the game. The Bucks earned a season-high-tying fifth consecutive win.
Antetokounmpo has scored 35 or more points in four consecutive games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in Bucks history to do so. Abdul-Jabbar had four such streaks of at least four games in his Milwaukee tenure.
On the defensive end, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks held the Clippers scoreless over the final four minutes.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks face another tough challenge on defense when they attempt to slow Nikola Jokic on Tuesday. The Denver center barely missed his ninth triple-double of the season and 50th of his career on Monday night in the Nuggets’ 118-112 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Jokic finished with 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists to help the Nuggets win their second in a row to open a five-game road trip.
“I see all these conversations about who would you want to start a franchise with,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I’ve never seen Nikola’s name mentioned, and I’m dumbfounded by that.”
Jokic, 26, scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to save the Nuggets after they saw a 15-point lead slip away and they fell behind by six.
Denver’s Jamal Murray finished with 24 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 17 points and 15 rebounds.
“We were sloppy, I think,” Jokic said. “I just wanted to be aggressive, change the rhythm, probably. I think I did.”
The Bucks should be getting stronger as Sunday’s game marked the return of Jrue Holiday from a 10-game absence caused by COVID-19.
“Conditioning is just a little behind. I felt like I was a step slow,” said Holiday, who played 18 minutes and finished with two points and three assists.
Khris Middleton and Donte DiVincenzo picked things up in Holiday’s absence. Middleton has two 30-plus-point games in his past four contests, and DiVincenzo poured in a career-high 24 during the Bucks’ Thursday win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We have to prove it by doing it over and over again, not just one game or two games,” Middleton said after the victory over the Clippers, in which he had 10 points and eight assists. “But I think tonight was a great sign that we’re headed in the right direction as far as defensively.”
The Bucks don’t figure to see the Nuggets’ entire roster on Tuesday. Denver played without R.J. Hampton, Facundo Campazzo and Markus Howard on Monday due to health and safety protocols.
Nuggets starters Paul Millsap (knee) and Gary Harris (groin) also were absent at Chicago, and they aren’t expected to return until after the All-Star break. JaMychal Green missed the Bulls contest due to a shoulder injury.
Jaylen Adams (health and safety protocols) and Jordan Nwora (left ankle sprain) are expected to remain out for the Bucks.
–Field Level Media