Ultimately, it proved to be a sacrifice worth making for Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
After failing to close out in time as Dallas guard Tim Hardaway Jr. attempted a 3-pointer with 2:55 left to play, Antetokounmpo committed his sixth foul and watched from the bench as Hardaway missed all three free throws before Milwaukee held on for a 106-105 road win over the Mavericks on Friday.
It marked the seventh victory in eight games for the Bucks, who will face the Rockets on Sunday in what will be the first of seven consecutive home games for Houston.
Antetokounmpo departed with 28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists and the Bucks clinging to a one-point lead. Milwaukee did not wilt in his absence and was aided by the Mavericks missing 8 of 15 free throws in the final period. Still, despite that awful marksmanship, the Bucks needed a last-second layup from Brook Lopez to secure the win, a play executed to perfection without their superstar.
“At the end by me fouling out and not letting it affect them in any way, that says a lot about this team,” Antetokounmpo said. “That says a lot about how deep this team is and we’re building that championship character. It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor, we play to win. We compete, we defend, we play good basketball.”
In what has become routine of late, the Rockets fell into an early double-digit hole in the first meeting against the Bucks before succumbing 125-105 on Oct. 22. Milwaukee scored the first 13 points in the wire-to-wire win while Houston never cut the deficit below 12 in the second half.
While Houston has struggled with slow starts in recent weeks, it was a third-quarter collapse that proved the Rockets’ undoing in their 118-109 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. The Rockets allowed the Spurs to shoot 58.3 percent in the third quarter, including 8 of 14 from behind the 3-point line, while surrendering 39 points and coughing up a 54-51 halftime lead.
“I think it was just a lack of energy,” Rockets guard Jalen Green said. “Coach (Stephen Silas) said from the beginning that in film he noticed that the energy was off. I think that was through the whole game we didn’t have any energy.”
After opening the schedule with 10 of 13 games on the road, the Rockets are seeking to build some momentum during their upcoming homestand. It is rare for an NBA team to play so many home games in succession, and the Rockets hope to take advantage of the scheduling quirk.
“This home stretch is going to be good,” Green said. “We’re going to be in our bed, we don’t have to do much except wake up and go to the arena. We’re going to have energy these next coming up games.
“All we can do is really just come out here and play the best we can. Some nights we’re not going to be able to capitalize on that, but as long as we go out and fight we should be straight.”
–Field Level Media