NEW YORK – In a precursor to their Christmas Day showdown in New York City, the Milwaukee Bucks visited Madison Square Garden on Sunday morning, looking to win their second straight contest and improve to ten games over .500 for the first time since 2010.
As is always the case when Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo visits the Big Apple, a large contingent of Greek fans were on hand, giving the MVP candidate a loud ovation when announced in the starting line-up.
Bucks fans and Antetokounmpo admirers alike ultimately left disappointed, as Milwaukee lost to the Knicks 136-134 in a pulsating overtime contest in front of a rocking sell-out crowd.
While the 53 minutes of basketball provided an entertaining night in New York, it was a first quarter incident that stole headlines in the aftermath.
Knicks forward Mario Hezonja finished a transition dunk, with Antetokounmpo attempting to block the attempt behind. Antetokounmpo fell to the ground on the play, and Hezonja decided to step over the out Greek Freak, sending the crowd into raptures.
Antetokounmpo, appeared bothered by the act, and was asked if that was the case post-game.
“Oh yeah, next time I’m going to punch him in the nuts,” Antetokounmpo said in a dead serious manner.
Tonight was the second disappointing loss in just over a week for the Bucks, who also fell to the lowly Phoenix Suns at home on last Thursday. Speaking with The Pick and Roll post-game, Thon Maker pointed to an interesting trend that is beginning to surface with this Milwaukee team.
“We’re are a team that, I don’t want to say it, but it looked like from my point of view that we aren’t good with rest,” Maker said.
“We had Thanksgiving off and came back and lost to the Suns, our past two years we haven’t been good with rest. We tend to play better on tougher schedules, I think we really need to look deep and see how we can come out fired up. This loss hurts and will help us come back with a better mentality next game for sure.”
Maker had a productive 12 minutes of court time today, knocking down two triples in his total of nine points.
One play in the second quarter was indicative of the struggles that continue to haunt him. In this moment, he was unable to finish what should have been an easy dunk inside. These are the plays that Maker simply has to make if he wants to stay in the rotation. This is especially true given Christian Wood was recalled to the Bucks roster, after a 33-point outing with the Wisconsin Herd on Wednesday night.
As is always the case at The Garden, the rowdy crowd created a raucous atmosphere for the Knicks, riding every bucket with thunderous roars. Maker spoke about how vital a big crowd can be in swinging momentum.
"It gives them momentum for sure, you gotta find a way to shut it off," Maker said. "A three-pointer or a dunk gives them that life and if you keep the fans out of it completely it destroys a home team's mentality."
Unfortunately for Milwaukee, they were unable to shut the crowd out. Milwaukee, who led by as many as 16 points in the second half, watched their lead whittle away to nothing with 24.1 seconds left in regulation. After dribbling the clock all the way down, Antetokounmpo failed to hit the rim on a last second fadeaway jump shot.
In a frenetic extra period, it came down to Brook Lopez missing a free throw with 1.2 seconds left, forcing his hand in missing the second. The Bucks failed to recover the loose ball and the game was lost.
Milwaukee were certainly the red-hot favourites coming in, and now have three days off to assess what went wrong and avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in their campaign.
The Milwaukee Bucks host the Detroit Pistons on Thursday morning - Tip-off is at 12:00pm