INDIANAPOLIS – As the Milwaukee Bucks huddled together immediately before heading out to the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Giannis Antetokounmpo had one last message for his teammates.
“We don’t lose to the same team twice,” he said.
The all-star captain, in the final game before the break, didn’t just talk the talk Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers. Antetokounmpo was stellar throughout the night but particularly at the end, carrying the Bucks back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit and powering an 11-0 run in the final minutes to give the Bucks a 106-97 victory.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 106, Pacers 97
NBA: Live scoreboard, box scores, standings, statistics
The Bucks improved to a league-best 43-14, remained unbeaten in revenge games against teams that won the previous matchup and entered the all-star break one game shy of their 2017-’18 win total with 25 games to go.
Antetokounmpo, who had his least productive game of the season with 12 points on just six shots in Milwaukee’s Dec. 12 loss in Indiana, was sensational Wednesday. He had 13 points in the first quarter alone on the way to a 33-point, 19-rebound, 11-assist performance.
As well as he played early, he saved his best for the end.
After the Pacers used suffocating defense and efficient offense to take total control in the second half, leading by as many as 10 points with 9 1/2 minutes left, Antetokounmpo played a central role in leading the Bucks back.
With less than four minutes left and Milwaukee trailing, 95-93, Antetokounmpo sparked a game-deciding, 11-0 run with a hand in every bucket during that stretch.
He got a 9-footer to roll in, found Ersan Ilyasova under the hoop for an easy layup, threw a bullet of a one-handed pass to Khris Middleton in the corner for a three-pointer and nailed four straight free throws over a three-minute stretch to give the Bucks the lead for good.
Defensively, the Bucks turned to a switch-heavy scheme down the stretch bent on making every Pacers look as difficult as possible. That scheme was particularly reliant on center Brook Lopez being able to keep up with Indiana’s smaller guards, which the 7-footer handled perfectly.
Malcolm Brogdon contributed 17 points in the victory, Middleton had eight of his 15 points in the final nine minutes and Ilyasova provided a nice spark off the bench with 11 points and solid defense in his 23 minutes.
Published 9:42 PM EST Feb 13, 2019