The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers entered Thursday’s elite-level matchup both at 24-4 on the season.
This game in Wisconsin could very well be a preview of the 2020 NBA Finals come June.
In the end, Milwaukee came out in a well-played game. Giannis Antetokounmpo stood above his MVP candidate counterparts on the Lakers to the tune of 34 points. Anthony Davis went tit-for-tat with Giannis while LeBron James struggled to an extent.
These are among the biggest winners and losers from Milwaukee’s stirring 111-104 victory over the Lakers Thursday evening.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak is now hitting three-pointers on a consistent basis. Antetokounmpo nailed five from beyond the arc on Thursday, including one from long range. Once it becomes apparent that Giannis is able to hit these shots, he’s going to be nearly unstoppable.
While foul trouble did haunt Antetokounmpo in the third quarter, he played yet another exceptional game. The reigning NBA MVP scored 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in the Bucks’ win. As dominating as they come this season, Giannis proved himself even more as a legit candidate to repeat as the league MVP. Oh, and he also set a new career-high with five threes.
Loser: LeBron James
One might conclude that LeBron putting up a triple-double should have him as a winner here. Given that he’s averaging nearly a triple-double on the season, that was not the most-shocking outcome for the King in Los Angeles’ loss to the Bucks.
Rather, it’s that the Lakers finished minus-14 in the 37 minutes James was on the court. The team outscored Milwaukee by seven points with him on the bench. Plus-minus is an overrated stat, but it’s somewhat telling with James. The Lakers were plus-249 with James on the court over the first 28 games of the season, second to only Giannis himself.
Winner: Danny Green
With the Lakers’ bench struggling to do anything of substance Thursday night (more on that later), they needed someone to step up behind James and Davis. As he has proven throughout his stellar championship career, Green was more than up for the task.
The veteran connected on 7-of-12 shots from three-point range and dropped 21 points. In fact, he hit 58% of Los Angeles’ shots from beyond the arc. While it might not have been enough to pull off the road upset, Green continues to prove himself as a core piece for the Lakers in his first season with the team.
Loser: Lakers bench
Los Angeles prides itself on being able to go six-plus deep off the bench at any given moment. The likes of Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso have been darn good this season. Unfortunately, that was not the case against Milwaukee Thursday night.
The Lakers’ bench combined to shoot 2-of-9 from the field. Bradley, Howard, Rondo and Caruso were a combined minus-50 when on the court. Against a deep and talented team like the Bucks, this simply isn’t going to cut it. The Lakers know that.
Winner: George Hill
Raise your hand if you had Hill as the Bucks’ second-leading scorer in this potential NBA Finals preview? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Taking advantage of an awful Lakers bench on Thursday, this veteran showed out in a big way.
Hill connected on 7-of-12 shots from the field, including 3-of-5 from distance. He finished the evening with 21 points while seeing the Bucks outscore Los Angeles by seven points in his 21 minutes of action. Solid gold stuff from the always reliable Hill here.
Loser: Khris Middleton
Milwaukee needed its other All-Star caliber player to step up once Giannis got into foul trouble. For some reason, Middleton was hesitant to shoot the ball. The wing entered Thursday’s action shooting 49% from the field and 40% from distance this season.
We’re openly wondering why he was so gunshy, attempting just 10 shots in the game. It did not come back to haunt Milwaukee Thursday evening, but Middleton must pick his spots to be more aggressive. This game was a prime example of that.
Winner: Anthony Davis
A game that saw other members of the Lakers struggle also included Davis putting up an MVP-caliber performance. The team relied on AD big time down the stretch. He delivered time after time, bringing this game close late in the fourth quarter.
Davis finished the evening having recorded 36 points on 11-of-25 shooting. He picked up the slack big time, going with his patented bullying style on a consistent basis. This dude has been on one in his first season with the Lakers. Thursday’s performance magnified this to a T.