In their first matchup since last season’s Eastern Conference finals matchup, the reigning MVP helped Milwaukee hold on to beat Toronto 115-105 after nearly blowing a 26-point edge at Fiserv Forum.
Antetokounmpo would end with a season-best 36 points with 15 boards, eight assists and four swats while going 14-for-20 from the field. It was Milwaukee’s first consecutive wins on the young season after defeating Orlando on the road Friday night.
“I had a lot of motivation, but obviously a different team. Kawhi (Leonard) is not on the team, but I think guys have stepped up,” Antetokounmpo said. “(Kyle) Lowry is still playing amazing, (Pascal) Siakam has stepped up a lot for this team, (OG) Anunoby … those guys, but yeah, just the team that cost us the trip to the NBA Finals, obviously, you’re gonna come out and play a little bit harder and have a little bit extra juice in you.
“I think that’s what the team did tonight and that’s what when I woke up from my nap, that’s what I was thinking.”
Bucks guard Wesley Matthews was limited to nine minutes on the night after rolling an ankle in the opening half. He was on the bench in the second half but never re-entered game, for precautionary reasons, according to Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.
“I think a lot goes in tonight, but to get the win and find a way to sustain the run they [had] in the second and third quarter,” Budenholzer said. “Proud of the way our guys sustained the run, find a way to win.”
Milwaukee outscored the Raptors 50-30 in the paint as the Raptors were forced to finish the night without Siakam, who fouled out with 1:41 remaining in regulation with 16 points and five rebounds. Lowry also dropped 17 of his team-high 36 points in the third quarter to go along with six assists and four boards, with Toronto using a 40-point quarter to enter the fourth, trailing by just five.
However, Antetokounmpo scored 15 of the Bucks’ 29 transition points on an efficient 6-of-7 from the field.
He also scored 21 in the half-court en route to becoming the first player in Bucks history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 blocks in a single game since blocks were first recorded in the 1973-74 season, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
With the Bucks improving to 4-2 on the season, last year’s playoff defeat is now a distant memory, but Milwaukee needs to address its problem with maintaining big leads. In the home opener against Miami, they would go on to lose after being up by 21 points, and they also blew a 19-point lead at Boston on Wednesday before nearly doing it again Saturday.
“I think there’s a little bit of lackadaisical once we get a lead,” said Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo, who scored eight points off the bench. “We’ve just got to keep our foot on the pedal.”
The difference in this latest victory proved to be Antetokounmpo, but that won’t always be the case.
“We’ve got to get better — it’s happened three times so far,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve got to be in the moment; we cannot stop playing, we cannot relax. People are coming after us; nothing’s going to be given to us. It doesn’t matter if we made the Eastern Conference finals last year and we won 60 games — nobody’s going to give us 60 games.”