Bucks start slow, finish strong to beat Pelicans

MILWAUKEE — As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo put up the big numbers. But it was D.J. Wilson and his fellow reserves who caught the eye of first-year Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Antetokounmpo had 25 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and the Bucks got a big effort from their bench Wednesday night in a hard-fought 123-115 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

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“It’s a huge statement. You need that throughout the season,” Budenholzer said. “You need your bench. It’s a really important part.”

Wilson, who has seen little action this season due to lingering injuries, added nine points and 10 rebounds. He was on the court for much of the fourth quarter as Milwaukee improved to 21-9.

“I think it just shows the work I’ve been putting in and the opportunity I’ve been given,” Wilson said.

Antetokounmpo praised the effort of the second-year player.

“D.J. has done a great job of just playing the game and waiting for his chance,” he said. “He’s learning right now.”

Another bench player, newly acquired George Hill, had 11 points and hit a 3-pointer at the horn to end the third quarter and tie it at 90 in a game that featured seven ties and 14 lead changes through the first three periods. Tony Snell also chipped in with 13 points in a reserve role.

New Orleans, already short-handed in the frontcourt due to a rash of injuries, played an extended stretch without star forward Anthony Davis, who led the Pelicans with 14 points and five rebounds in the first quarter. He limped off the court and directly to the locker room with an apparent left ankle injury in the waning seconds of the period after his legs got tangled with teammate Andrew Harrison underneath the basket as Harrison drew a charge on Thon Maker.

Davis, who also appeared shaken up on the previous play when he fell to his knees after blocking a shot, returned to the bench briefly at the start of the second quarter before again heading to locker room. The Pelicans’ public relations staff tweeted shortly before halftime that Davis’ return was questionable due to illness, not injury. Davis returned to the bench in the third quarter and entered the game almost immediately.

Davis did not speak with reporters after the game.

“He was sick,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He went in and lost his lunch a couple of times, but he was able to come back out.”

Davis scored the Pelicans’ first nine points in the fourth quarter and finished with 27, along with 11 rebounds. Jrue Holiday had 25 points and 12 assists.

The game remained tight throughout the fourth before the Bucks went on an 11-0 run to build a 10-point lead with 3:18 remaining. The Pelicans got no closer than six the rest of the way.

The Bucks opened a 12-point lead in the second before New Orleans rallied to take a 66-62 lead at halftime sparked by Darius Miller, who poured in a season-high 17 points and finished with 20.

STEPPING UP

Backup center Jahlil Okafor, who has struggled, had a season-high 17 points in 13 minutes for New Orleans. “I’ve just been staying ready,” Okafor said. “My teammates were telling me to keep going, so they gave me a lot of confidence.”

Gentry said the key is for Okafor “to relax and play under control.”

“He’s just got to get into that right situation,” the coach said. “You have to keep yourself prepared.”

TURNAROUND

After missing eight of nine shots, including seven of eight from 3-point range Sunday in a loss to Miami, Miller rebounded by making seven of 15 shots overall and going 6 of 11 from beyond the arc.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: F Nikola Mirotic sat out for the third consecutive game with a right ankle injury. … F Julius Randle, who left Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter with a right ankle sprain, didn’t play. Miller replaced him in the starting lineup. … A right ankle injury also sidelined G Ian Clark.

Bucks: G Malcolm Brogdon returned after missing two games with left hamstring soreness. … F Ersan Ilyasova missed a second consecutive game with a broken nose. … Rookie G Donte DiVincenzo has been assigned to the club’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd.

UP NEXT

Pelicans: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

Bucks: Visit the Boston Celtics on Friday.