Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton return for Bucks in 150-130 win over the Pistons

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday played just their sixth game together this season Monday evening at Little Caesar’s Arena and led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 150-130 victory over the Detroit Pistons. It was a season-high point total for the Bucks.

With the victory, the Bucks improved to 30-17 and became the third team in the Eastern Conference to reach 30 wins. The Pistons fell to 12-37.

Bucks welcome back Antetokounmpo and Middleton

The last time the Bucks’ star trio played in the same game was Dec. 11 at Houston, but Middleton exited that game early with an ankle injury. Their last full game together was Dec. 9 against Dallas. So, even though Middleton played 15 minutes off the bench against the Pistons, his return was a most welcome sight for the Bucks.

“They’re the ones that have built this program, built this organization to what it is,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. “They play at an amazingly high level. There’s a connection. Their skill sets marry up well together when they’re at their best. We feel like we obviously have a really good roster and a really good team that needs those two guys or is at its best with those two guys.”

He scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting, had four assists and six turnovers – and also immediately commanded the attention of multiple Pistons defenders when on the floor.

“Felt great,” he said. “Legs were under me. It was pretty good. Turnovers and defense is something that’s got to be better but I think that will come along with a little bit of time.”

Middleton made his second comeback of the season after missing the first 20 games as he recovered from offseason wrist surgery. He played seven games from Dec. 2-15, but experienced blistering on his feet, a rolled ankle and swelling in his right knee that has sidelined him the last 18 games. He began practicing five-on-five with the Bucks on Jan. 10 in Atlanta and those sessions continued with his teammates and the Wisconsin Herd since.

BOX SCORE: Bucks 150, Pistons 130

“Just trying to return to get ready to play, get in shape, get stronger and knowing that I wasn’t going to run into the same problems that I had last time,” Middleton told reporters Monday morning at the shootaround. “I won’t say that it won’t happen again; hopefully it doesn’t. I just tried to do the best that I could during this time that I had off to get myself fully healthy.”

Antetokounmpo had missed five games with left knee soreness. In the three games prior to being held out in Miami on Jan. 12, Antetokounmpo averaged just 12.7 points per game on 10.7 shots. It was a stretch that included his two lowest-scoring games of his season. Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points on 8 of 15 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“It feels good to be out there with the team again, play, run up and down, make some plays,” he said. “Can never take it for granted. Definitely just miss it. I miss it. I miss being around my teammates, just miss playing basketball. I just missed being out there and competing. But felt good. Energy wise I felt good. But obviously it’s a little bit out of rhythm, but getting in my game hopefully I can get a rhythm, get back to being aggressive, go out there and compete and create art.”

Holiday had 16 points and seven assists in 30 minutes.

Giannis, Bucks start hot and wear Pistons out early

Brook Lopez opened the game with a missed corner three-pointer, but then the Bucks ripped of 12 consecutive made shots – including 4 three-pointers. On the other end of the court, they scored six points off three Detroit turnovers and they led 31-10 in the first six minutes of the game.

“I’m sure the basket looked big for ’em,” Budenholzer said. “They start feeding off of each other, I think playing with the pass, I think just a good rhythm. I think the defense was good so it was just one of those quarters where kind of everything went well for us.”

It was over at that point, as the Bucks just kept piling it on behind Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks’ star went 6 for 6 in the opening quarter – including 2 three-pointers – and made 6 of his 7 free throws to score 20 points.

Milwaukee led 49-24 after one quarter, setting a season-high points mark for an opening quarter and being the second-most points scored in a first quarter in league history (Charlotte scored 51 in the opening 12 minutes in Milwaukee on Jan. 6).

The Bucks made 75% of their shots (18 for 24) and eight different players scored.

The pace slowed a bit in the second quarter, but Milwaukee still took an 83-55 lead into the break. It was a season-high point total in a first half for the Bucks, as they shot 65% from the floor and 54% from behind the three-point line. They also scored 34 points in the paint and had 35 off the bench, led by Bobby Portis’ 14 and eight from Middleton.

The 83 points were the third-most the Bucks have ever scored in a first half (88 vs. Wizards in 2020, 85 vs. Wizards in 2019) and the most first-half points allowed by the Pistons since 1978.

More:Milwaukee Bucks trade rumors tracker: Serge Ibaka wants out, Jae Crowder on deck?

More:Giannis Antetokounmpo moves to front of Eastern Conference All-Star Game balloting, in position to be a ‘captain’

Five numbers

4 Straight double-doubles for Portis with 18 points and 10 rebounds. It was his 29th double-double of the season, the most by any player in the league who is not a consistent starter. He exited the game with right knee soreness early in the fourth quarter, but after the game he said he would be alright.

12 Consecutive made shots for the Bucks after Lopez missed a game-opening three-pointer. Milwaukee took a 31-10 lead in that stretch.

33 Points for Pistons wing Bojan Bogdanović, who made 6 of his 7 three-pointers and 11 of his 15 shots overall. He also went 5 for 5 at the free throw line.

16-1 Bucks’ record vs. the Pistons since 2018-19.

12/7/2022 The last time Antetokounmpo made at least 2 three-pointers in a game, going 2 for 2 vs. Sacramento in a 35-point effort. It was part of a career-best eight-game stretch of scoring at least 30 points. In that time, he made at least 2 threes on four occasions.

Jrue Holiday named Eastern Conference Player of the Week

The Bucks point guard took home the conference honors for the week of Jan. 16-22 where the Bucks went 2-1 and Holiday averaged 33.3 points, 9.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 57% from the field. In setting back-to-back season high scoring performances on Jan. 16 vs. Indiana (35 points) and Jan. 17 vs. Toronto (37) was the first time in his career he scored at least 35 points in consecutive games. He also had double-doubles against Toronto and Cleveland.

The honor is just the second of Holiday’s career.

Pistons honor Bob Lanier and Chris Ford

Hall of Famer Bob Lanier passed away on May 10, 2022 and the Pistons honored his memory before Monday’s game. Lanier, whom the Pistons selected with the first pick in the 1970 draft out of St. Bonaventure, played parts of 10 seasons in Detroit before being traded to Milwaukee in 1980.

Lanier finished his career with the Bucks in 1984, and made one all-star team with the franchise and eventually had his number retired. He made seven all-star teams with the Pistons and had averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in his career.

He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 and spent time as the NBA’s chairman of its Stay in School program and as its NBA Cares global ambassador.

“Getting to know Bob Lanier and interactions with him in his role with the league – and I don’t remember what his official title was – but he was the greatest guy on earth it felt like,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Everybody loved him and just such a great, big personality. For young people like me in trying to learn and have respect for the history and what these guys have done, he had just an amazing presence and it felt like he was an ambassador, somebody that was spreading the love of the game that he obviously had.”

Ford passed away on Jan. 17. He played parts of seven seasons with the Pistons and then coached the Bucks from 1996-98.

Video of the game is Khris Middleton’s first basket

Middleton’s return wasn’t totally smooth with some early turnovers, but he stepped right into his first basket with a vintage three-pointer and then took it off the bounce for a left-hand finish in scoring five first quarter points. It was a welcome sight for the Bucks, as the three-time all-star had only played seven games on the season heading into Monday’s contest.

Play of the game is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s pull-up three-pointer

The Bucks’ star made all six of his shots in the first quarter, including a pull-up three-pointer off a dribble to close his scoring with 20 points in eight minutes. He was 2 for 2 from behind the three-point line and 6 for 7 from the free throw line and the triple gave the Bucks a 40-12 lead.

Bucks injury report

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness), probable
  • Khris Middleton (right knee soreness), probable
  • Serge Ibaka (not with team), out

Who do the Bucks play next?

Milwaukee heads home to take on the Denver Nuggets and reigning two-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokić on Wednesday night. The Nuggets’ star has been dealing with left hamstring tightness, but if he’s available the entirety of the Nuggets offense changes as he’s nearly averaging a triple-double for the best team in the Western Conference. Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. are also having great seasons for Denver.

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