Saturday, June 3 2023
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MILWAUKEE —Well after he became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to record consecutive 40-point, 20-rebound, 5-assist games, Giannis Antetokounmpo waited for the small group of reporters waiting in the Milwaukee Bucks locker room Friday night to gather around him, and then added to his growing collection of risqué quips.

“I need a drink,” Antetokounmpo said, before mentioning another activity that the Big Dipper was known to enjoy quite frequently. “That’s a Wilt answer, eh?” 

A Wilt answer befitting a Wilt performance. Antetokounmpo finished with 43 points, 20 rebounds and five assists on 14 of 23 from the field and 14 of 21 from the free throw line in the Bucks’ 123-114 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a result that snapped their four-game losing streak. 

“It’s what we’ve been talking about,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. His force, his determination, his will, attacking, attacking, attacking … it’s what he’s built for.” 

Even more so than usual, the Bucks have become a one-man show in recent games due to the absence of Khris Middleton (knee) and Jrue Holiday (illness). Against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, Antetokounmpo went for 45 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists, a ridiculous line that was overshadowed by his mistakes late in regulation and overtime that led to the team’s eventual defeat. Against the Wolves, he refused to let such a performance go to waste. 

In the process he joined some legendary company. Besides Antetokounmpo and Chamberlain, the only other player in NBA history to have consecutive 40-20-5 games is Elgin Baylor, who did so a remarkable four times in a row during the 1961 season. When you take assists out of the picture, Antetokounmpo became the first player since Moses Malone in 1982 to have consecutive 40-20 games. 

“It’s a great compliment to be around those guys and always a great feeling to be able to go out there and help the team in any way possible to get a win,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m proud of this team. As a leader I just try to do whatever I can, try to push myself to the limit. I just want to win games. Feels way better when you’re able to win and go home and sleep.”

Those wins have not been coming often enough for a Bucks team that is used to racking them up in bunches. Despite a phenomenal December from Antetokounmpo, in which he averaged 33.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 53.2 percent shooting, the Bucks were just 8-7 and are now tied with the surging Brooklyn Nets for second place in the Eastern Conference at 23-12. 

Antetokounmpo’s one-man act is electrifying, but he needs help to win games on a consistent basis. Getting Middleton and Holiday healthy again is key, but the long-awaited debut of Joe Ingles, who missed the first 29 games while returning from a torn ACL, will be an underrated boost. Ingles had his best game as a Buck on Friday, deliving a much-needed 14 points and 10 assists off the bench. 

“He carries such a load for us,” Ingles said of Antetokounmpo. “I think for us as a team we need to help him with that and I think tonight was kind of forward progress of helping him — us trusting him when he’s got the ball and vice versa, like him trusting us when he’s got the ball, for us to make shots and plays.”

Helping out a two-time MVP is a big responsibility, but it’s one Ingles enjoys much more than trying to slow him down. 

“It’s nice to be running to the corner in transition waiting to shoot a 3 instead of looking him in the eye and getting run over.”



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