ATLANTA (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 points in his return to the Milwaukee lineup and got plenty of help from his teammates as the Bucks cooled off the surging Atlanta Hawks 120-109 yesterday.
Antetokounmpo had missed six games with an ailing left knee before getting cleared to play in Atlanta, where he starred in the NBA All-Star Game last month.
He played 25 minutes in his return, hitting seven of 12 shots to go along with five rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. He didn’t have to carry too much of a load as the Bucks put seven players in double figures, led by Jrue Holiday with 23 points.
“Watching this team play six games, I realise this team is really, really good,” Antetokounmpo said. “I just want to help as much as I can.”
While the Bucks had won their last two games without Antetokounmpo, they were thrilled to have him back on the court.
“He’s our best player,” Holiday said. “That’s the calibre of team we want to be, especially now going into the end of the season. Seeing Giannis out there, he’s so dominant, he attracts so many people. He makes the game easier for everybody else.”
The Hawks got as close as 113-105 with just over two minutes remaining, but the Bucks sealed the victory with a sequence in which they claimed three straight offensive rebounds, the last leading to a put-back dunk by Brook Lopez.
Pat Connaughton finished off Atlanta with a three-pointer.
Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points, hitting six three-pointers. Trae Young returned after missing two games with a calf injury but had a terrible night, connecting on just three of 17 shots.
“That was the key to the game plan,” said Holiday, one of those charged with guarding the Atlanta star. “I think we did a pretty good job of not giving him any easy, open looks.”
The Hawks lost for only the sixth time in 22 games since Nate McMillan took over as interim coach.
Antetokounmpo added another good memory from State Farm Arena. He was MVP of the All-Star Game, hitting all 16 of his shots for 35 points — the most baskets without a miss in the history of the midseason showcase.
The Bucks stretched their lead for third place in the Eastern Conference to five games over the fourth-place Hawks.
“We ran into a team with championship ambitions,” said Solomon Hill, who scored 18 points for Atlanta.
Milwaukee led by as many as 14 in the first half, settling for a 64-52 edge at the break.
Getting hot from long range, Atlanta quickly erased the deficit in the third. Bogdanovic knocked down a three-pointer to put the Hawks ahead 74-73 near the midway point of the period — Atlanta’s first lead since the opening minutes.
But, in a game of spurts, Milwaukee quickly regained the momentum and pushed the margin at the end of the third to exactly where it stood at halftime, 94-82.
The Bucks wrapped up a stretch in which they played nine of 10 on the road.