The Milwaukee Bucks may be 5-6 on the young season, but the pairing of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe looked like a threat in the Eastern Conference during Friday’s 94-87 road victory over the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center.
Bledsoe finished with 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds in his first game since the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Bucks on Tuesday, helping to stop Milwaukee’s four-game losing streak.
He was far from alone, as Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat sheet with 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four blocks as a two-way force. The Spurs had nobody to stop him with Kawhi Leonard still out with a quad injury, and he consistently exploited openings in the open floor and the half court.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for San Antonio in defeat with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Antetokounmpo Leads Way but Receives Help
The Bucks will go as far as Antetokounmpo will take them this season, but his pairing with Bledsoe was a thing of beauty at times Friday and a positive sign of things to come.
Bledsoe started for reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and hit his first shot on a mid-range pull-up. He maintained control of the pace with just three turnovers, used his speed in transition and played the role of facilitator by slicing through the lane and consistently finding teammates when San Antonio collapsed.
He also connected with Antetokounmpo on a head-turning alley-oop:
Giannis is doing that thing again….
Watch: ESPN https://t.co/1BCXRgMPVS
When Bledsoe wasn’t handling the ball, it was Antetokounmpo, and he demonstrated his own passing abilities in a similar fashion when the Spurs gravitated toward him.
He also unleashed the mandatory ridiculous-athleticism play on a break:
Giannis got creative with this one.
WATCH: ESPN https://t.co/gA9mNcVbbn
The importance of Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe was perhaps never clearer than when the Spurs trimmed a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to just three in the early fourth with the twosome on the bench. They returned in time to rescue the Bucks, and Bledsoe’s jumper to push the lead to four in the final two minutes proved to be the most important shot of the contest.
Bucks head coach Jason Kidd didn’t hesitate to mix and match lineups with Bledsoe, Brogdon and even Matthew Dellavedova, using multiple point guards, but Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo handled the ball in the critical moments.
Khris Middleton played the role of third option with 13 points and eight rebounds, while John Henson added 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Spurs Battle Back Before Falling Short
It is a testament to the brilliance of head coach Gregg Popovich—and his ability to get the best from his players—that the Spurs are still 7-5 even though Leonard has yet to suit up this season.
It would have been easy to roll over when they fell behind by 14 in the second half with Antetokounmpo playing well, but the veteran-laden Spurs nearly completed a comeback behind Aldridge and a balanced supporting cast.
Aldridge handled Thon Maker in the post a number of times and went 8-of-14 from the field, while Pau Gasol was more of a distributor from the high post with five assists and eight points.
However, the backcourt combination of Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills played a critical role in the near comeback. Ginobili’s penetration led to a number of looks at the rim, and he finished with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.
With Ginobili and Aldridge scoring down low, Mills took advantage of perimeter openings and drilled four three-pointers on his way to 14 points, although he missed one late that would have put the Spurs ahead.
San Antonio will look to turn things around Saturday at home against the Chicago Bulls, while the Bucks return home to the BMO Harris Bradley Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers on the same day.