Bucks cruise past Knicks behind Antetokounmpo’s 37 points

<p>
              Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts to his three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
            </p>

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t looking at the scoreboard.

Even though the Milwaukee Bucks led by 25 points at halftime Tuesday night, the reigning MVP maintained his focus in the third quarter and put the finishing touches on a 128-102 victory over the New York Knicks.

Antetokounmpo had 17 points in just more than six minutes as Milwaukee scored 43 in the period and romped past the Knicks, sweeping the three-game season series and improving to a league-best 36-6.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive and trying to make plays,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you come out with the mindset to make the lead go 20 or 30 or 40, that’s when you mess up the lead.

“You’ve just got to keep doing your job, and then you look up and see you lead by 30. Then you’re like, ‘OK, we did our job so now we can sit.’”

Antetokounmpo did all his work in just 21 minutes, sinking 12 of 17 field goal attempts and 10 of 12 free throws while adding nine rebounds and four assists.

The highlight of his night was getting fouled on a 3-pointer in the third quarter, the first time that had happened to him since he was playing in the second division in Greece.

Antetokounmpo made all three free throws after being fouled by Mitchell Robinson, and Khris Middleton added two more on the play when Elfrid Payton was issued two quick technical fouls and ejected from the game.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s the first time it ever happened in the NBA. It was in Greece seven years ago. That made my day. But I definitely don’t have that in my game yet. Let’s just stay humble here.”

Middleton added 17 points and Ersan Ilyasova had 14 points and seven rebounds for Milwaukee, which led by as many as 35.

Julius Randle had 25 points and 15 rebounds to pace the Knicks (11-30), and rookie R.J. Barrett added 22 points. Bobby Portis had 20 off the bench.

Barrett was impressed by Antetokounmpo.

“He’s ridiculous,” Barrett said. “He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s a tough cover, for sure. He’s the Greek Freak. The things he can do are incredible. As a rookie, I’m just trying to figure out a way to beat him.”

It was only the third time since 1985-86 that an NBA player scored 37 points or more in less than 22 minutes — Paul George did it earlier this season for the Los Angeles Clippers and Quintin Dailey did it in 1986 for the Chicago Bulls.

Antetokounmpo scored on a nifty drive and followed with a 3-pointer as part of a 10-0 run that gave the Bucks a 39-23 advantage early in the second quarter.

Milwaukee outscored New York 36-17 in the period to grab a 65-40 halftime lead. Antetokounmpo finished the half with 20 points and eight rebounds.

SHOOTING STAR

Middleton is mixing up his offensive game, scoring effectively from the mid-range and beyond the 3-point line. At the season’s halfway point he had an effective field goal percentage of 55.8% and an overall percentage of 48.5%. “He took the challenge to be an even better shooter,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think we wanted him to be better on open looks. He’s taking his concentration in a lot of different areas and just increased it.” Middleton is seeking his second straight NBA All-Star selection.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Signed forward Kenny Wooten to a two-way contract. The 6-foot-8 Wooten has appeared in 24 games this season for the Westchester Knicks of the G-League, averaging 7.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said he has been impressed with “the athleticism and the energy and the force that he plays with.” … Marcus Morris missed his fifth straight game with a neck injury, and the Knicks also were without Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) and Dennis Smith Jr. (oblique strain).

Bucks: Talk has turned to Milwaukee’s chances of reaching 70 wins, after the team had 35 at the season’s halfway mark. Only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72 wins) and 2015-16 Golden State Warriors (73) have eclipsed that mark. Those Warriors were outspoken about wanting to beat the Bulls’ record. But it’s not a subject Budenholzer is thinking about. “We appreciate we’ve had a great start, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “Defensively, individual pride, it feels like there are nights where we can’t keep the ball in front of us. Offensively, our execution, both when we’re playing motion and in the half-court stuff, we need to be better. That becomes more important in close games, in the playoffs.” … Backup center Robin Lopez sat out for rest, taking his turn in the team’s plan to keep players fresh throughout the season. … Green Bay Packers stars Za’Darius Smith and Aaron Jones received huge ovations when they were introduced during a timeout late in the third quarter. The Packers play San Francisco in the NFC title game on Sunday.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

Bucks: Host the Boston Celtics on Thursday.