MILWAUKEE (AP) — San Antonio kept Giannis Antetokounmpo under control for one half.
Then the third quarter started.
The Milwaukee star opened it with a layup on an aggressive move to the basket and scored 19 of his game-high 32 points in the quarter, pacing the Bucks to a 127-118 victory over the Spurs last Saturday night.
Antetokounmpo repeatedly was fouled on his drives to the hoop and converted all 12 of his free throw attempts in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter as the Bucks started to pull away. A 60 per cent foul shooter this season entering the game, he finished 15 of 18 at the foul line to set a season-high for free throws made.
“That’s how Giannis is built,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It felt like they were going to foul him every time he drove it and test him at the free throw line. If they’re going to put him on the free throw line, I think Giannis will make them pay for it.”
All the hard knocks failed to get Antetokounmpo off his game.
“I’m going to trust my technique,” said Antetokounmpo, who had just nine points in the first half. “I saw that whenever I was getting in the paint, they tried to reach and foul and push me and all that. I said, ‘OK, tonight is going to be the night’. I tried to drive it, go in the paint and just make a play for myself or for my teammate.”
The NBA-leading Milwaukee improved to 32-5, winning their fifth straight since a Christmas Day loss in Philadelphia.
Eric Bledsoe added 21 points and six assists, Khris Middleton had 20 points and Brook Lopez tied a season-high with seven blocks. Backup centre Robin Lopez contributed 14 points and one block in 19 minutes.
“I thought we did a really good job in the first half, but he (Antetokounmpo) got away from us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a hell of a team. Those brothers killed us with the blocks and we were fouling too much.”
San Antonio took a 12-point lead early in the game but trailed at the break, 71-66. LaMarcus Aldridge had all 16 of his points in the first half but was 0 for 7 from the field in 15 second-half minutes.
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs with 26 points and Rudy Gay had 15 off the bench.
“That’s been our issue all year, having lapses whether it’s the second quarter or the start of the second half,” DeRozan said. “It makes it tough on us to crawl back.
“We’ve got an opportunity to play these guys on our floor Monday. We know what we did wrong and just try to be better.”
Bledsoe was four of six from three-point range and Kyle Korver, Middleton and Antetokounmpo each added three triples as the Bucks went 17 of 45 (37.8 per cent) from beyond the arc.
The Bucks, who own the NBA’s best record, will open a four-game Western swing in San Antonio, before moving on to play Golden State, Sacramento and Portland.
Milwaukee improved to 18-2 at home and 23-0 against sub-500 teams. The Bucks also scored 100 or more points for the 61st consecutive game, tying a mark set by the Houston Rockets during the 2016-’17 season.