Preview: Bucks vs. Knicks
MILWAUKEE -- Back home and rested up after an impressive return to the NBA's Christmas slate, the Milwaukee Bucks will return to action Thursday night against the same New York Knicks team they beat handily just two days ago.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's first career Christmas appearance was a memorable one. He scored 30 points with 14 rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks in 35 minutes in Milwaukee's 109-95 victory, which came on the heels of a disappointing showing just days earlier in Miami -- marking the 10th time the Bucks have followed a loss with a victory this season.
Three-pointers have been the Bucks' offensive hallmark this season but they weren't falling against the Knicks. Milwaukee hit just 6 of 32 attempts, marking a season low for makes, but head coach Mike Budenholzer was impressed with how the team made up for that problem with an increased presence on the defensive end -- holding the Knicks to 46 points on 32 percent shooting in the opening half and withstanding a third-quarter surge before closing out strong for the victory.
"Any time you come out with a 12 o'clock game, offensively it can be a struggle but to be solid defensively, for really most of the game, (we) hang our hat there," said Budenholzer. "Hopefully our identity is built from our defense. We know that's going to be there every possession every night. We're going to take the shots offensively, try to play with great place, all those things, but not let our overall energy and effort be affected if we're not making shots."
Antetokounmpo's stat line notwithstanding, Knicks coach David Fizdale was impressed with how Noah Vonleh worked to make things difficult for the "Greek Freak" Christmas morning -- including a dramatic blocked shot in the closing seconds of the opening half.
"Oh man, did he battle," Fizdale said of Vonleh. "He really battled. I was extremely happy with his effort. He's going up against an MVP candidate for sure. One of the toughest covers in the league. Giannis plays like a guard and Noah his whole life has been a power forward/center. For him to be able to compete that way against Giannis, I was very happy with his effort."
Vonleh, the ninth overall pick by Charlotte in the 2014 draft, is coming into his own with New York, averaging a career-high 26.4 minutes while scoring an average of 8.4 points on 38 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds.
His defense, though, has really stood out and he can expect to see plenty of Antetokounmpo again Thursday night.
"Make it tough and don't let him get too close to the basket," Vonleh said of his approach. "When he gets that deep, there's only a couple things that can happen: There's going to be a foul or he's gonna dunk it or score. So just trying to make it difficult."
Milwaukee leads the season series, taking two of the first three meetings and has won 14 of its last 18 meetings with the Knicks overall.