Antetokounmpo leads Bucks past Spurs in Bledsoe’s debut
SAN ANTONIO (AP) Eric Bledsoe made life easier on Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday night. It was a great first impression.
Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped a four-game skid with a 94-87 victory over San Antonio in Bledsoe’s debut with the Bucks.
Bledsoe had not practiced with Milwaukee aside from a morning shootaround, but he quickly adapted to the talent around him. He finished with 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
”It was good,” Antetokounmpo said. ”It’s really easy to play with him because you know he’s going to find you. He’s going to make the right play, so it’s fun to play with him.”
Bledsoe got the start after he came over in a trade with Phoenix on Tuesday. The 6-foot-1 point guard had not played in nearly three weeks since being sent home by the Suns after posting on Twitter that he didn’t want to remain with the team following the firing of then-coach Earl Watson.
”I think he was just excited to be back playing,” Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said. ”I thought his leadership, talking on the floor to his teammates is something that we needed and I thought he did a great job. He wasn’t bashful talking to his teammates.”
Bledsoe made his first attempt, a runner from 13 feet. He also had seven assists.
”It’s easy playing with these guys,” Bledsoe said. ”All I’ve got to do is give them the ball. I got the easy job.”
Led by Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, Milwaukee won for the first time in November and snapped San Antonio’s three-game winning streak.
Manu Ginobili’s hanging, left-handed bank shot led to a three-point play that got the Spurs within 89-87 with 2:26 remaining, but the Bucks extended their lead on jumpers by Bledsoe and Khris Middleton.
”This is how we want to play,” Antetokounmpo said. ”We want to play with an edge. Eric helped a lot in that, but everybody stepped up. Everybody stepped up. They played hard defensively and offensively.”
Antetokounmpo and LaMarcus Aldridge played to an early stalemate in a battle of star forwards.
Aldridge muscled his way to the basket and scored 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, but had only two attempts in the fourth quarter.
”We forgot a little bit about L.A.,” said Ginobili, who had a season-high 18 points. ”We couldn’t feed him. We should have used him way more.”
The Bucks’ length and quickness, especially Antetokounmpo’s, created havoc for the Spurs. San Antonio had 18 turnovers, two short of its season worst.
”We can’t turn the ball over the way we’re constituted right now,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”Every time we have a high turnover game, we are going to have problems.”
Bucks: Middleton had 13 points. He averaged 26.3 points, 8.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds in his previous three games. … Despite having scored 20 points in three straight games, Malcolm Brogdon came off the bench for the first time this season after starting nine games. He finished with nine points and seven rebounds. … Mirza Teletovic missed his first game, sitting out after experiencing soreness in his left knee.
Spurs: San Antonio continued to play without Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps), Tony Parker (left quadriceps) and Joffrey Lauvergne (sprained right ankle). The three have missed a combined 33 games, with Parker and Leonard yet to play this season. … Aldridge has 16 blocks this season.
Bucks: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night in their third back-to-back of the season.
Spurs: Host Chicago on Saturday night in the finale of a six-game homestand.
Bledsoe has to adapt to a new team and system, but the Bucks have to get used to a different style of play, too.
”I think for our bigs, they’re going to have to get used to getting the little dump offs and being able to finish,” Kidd said. ”Because (Bledsoe’s) going to get in the paint. He’s going to cause a problem.”
Count Popovich as among the multitude of admirers of Antetokounmpo, nicknamed the ”Greek Freak” for his ability to play like a guard with the length of a center.
”You’d have to say he’s become very confident and gained both skill wise and awareness of the game steadily each year,” Popovich said. ”He’s become a leader, he knows what he can do and he plays now to destroy you.”