LAKE BUENA VISTA (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 35 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Orlando Magic 121-107 yesterday for a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
Antetokounmpo went 12 of 14 as the top-seeded Bucks shot 56.1 per cent from the floor. Khris Middleton had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
“I was just trying to play hard,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously it was an early game today, we played at 1pm, (when) usually we’re not as focussed, when the game starts, we’re kind of a little bit lazy. I was trying to set the tone, play hard, guard my guy, take that individual challenge with my guy, trying to be active. I was just trying to be all over the place.”
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is tomorrow.
Game 3 included a second-quarter scuffle between Orlando forward James Ennis and Milwaukee forward Marvin Williams, who were both ejected after exchanging shoves. The incident occurred as both players were heading back up the floor after battling for rebounding position.
Ennis had been in the starting line-up for Orlando, which already was playing without forwards Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, guard Michael Carter-Williams and centre Mo Bamba due to a variety of injuries and illnesses. Williams is part of the Bucks’ strong group of reserves.
D J Augustin scored 24 points for Orlando. Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross added 20 points each.
“Already our margin for error against a team like the Bucks is very minimal,” Vucevic said. “They’re a great team. We have to play at a very high level to have a chance. They’re a great team. We have to play at a very high level to have a chance. Today we didn’t give ourselves a chance at all, and they really brought it.”
The skirmish between Ennis and Williams took place during a 13-0 run that put the Bucks in control of the game.
Milwaukee had a 45-34 lead before holding Orlando scoreless for a stretch of nearly five minutes. The Bucks had a 24-point edge by the time Vucevic ended the Orlando drought with 3:20 left before halftime. The Bucks led by as many as 34 in the third quarter while delivering their second straight dominant start. It represents a major step forward for the Bucks after they went 3-5 in seeding games while struggling to adapt to playing without spectators in the bubble setting at Disney’s Wide World of Sports,
“We’re finding that we’re going to have to bring our own energy ourselves because we don’t have those fans out here right now,” Middleton said. “Right now, we’ve just got to do the best we can in bringing that energy as a group together, going out there and competing every night.”
Orlando cut the lead to 104-92 on a Ross three-pointer with 7:22 left, but the Bucks answered with nine straight points.
Antetokounmpo capped the spurt by driving into the lane for a thunderous one-handed dunk.
“All of us feed off of Giannis and his leadership and his energy and his competitiveness,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think when he’s showing it and sharing it with all of us, toughing all of us, it’s great. He’s our leader. We needed it.”
Milwaukee benefitted from Middleton’s resurgence.
The All-Star forward shot five of 20 in the first two games of this series and scored just two points during Milwaukee’s 111-96 victory on Friday. Middleton shot seven of 17 yesterday.
Brook Lopez had 16 points and Eric Bledsoe added 14 for the Bucks.
“There’s going to be times that I’m not going to play well, and Khris is going to carry the team,” Antetokounmpo said.
“There’s going to be times when we’re both not going to play well, and Brook and Bled are going to carry the team. Khris is really important to this team, obviously. I can say it. Coach can say it, the team. Everybody knows that.”
Milwaukee also did a better job of guarding Vucevic, who scored 35 points in Orlando’s 122-110 Game 1 victory and 32 more in Game 2.
Vucevic shot just eight of 19 yesterday. The Magic centre had shot 59.6 per cent over the first two games of this series.