NEW YORK – The Milwaukee Bucks returned to Madison Square Garden for the second time in December this afternoon, though this time, the occasion was a little more significant. It was the first Christmas Day game for Milwaukee in 41 years, having not graced the court on the biggest day in the regular season since 1977.
The Bucks were up to the task, reversing the result from a few weeks ago with ease, rolling to a comfortable 109-95 victory in front of a sell-out Garden crowd. The win keeps the Bucks on pace with the first placed Toronto Raptors in the loss column, with their overall record improving to 23-10.
Giannis Antetokounmpo responded from his nine-point outing in Miami last game to, once again, lead the Bucks to victory, finishing with 30 points and 14 rebounds. For Australian Thon Maker, it was a terrific all-around performance, highlighted by a season-high tying 12 points. He also chipped in with three rebounds and two blocks in an impressive outing.
For Maker, the experience of playing on Christmas Day was an experience he won’t soon forget.
"Mentally, I was just trying to calm myself down and say it’s just another game," Maker said. "But the excitement was there, from when we ran out the tunnel, it was there. It was awesome."
Maker has generated the majority of his offence beyond the arc through the season's early going, but he was able to show off his offensive versatility against the Knicks, mixing dunks with off-the-dribble jump shots, as well as getting to the free-throw line for five attempts.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer thought the different avenues in which the Australian was able to score the ball proved pivotal.
"He did a lot more, we got him in the roll, he was slashing away from the basket," Budenholzer said.
"I’m not sure if he made a three today, he got to the free-throw line, made a little free-throw jumper out of a little half roll, so yeah, his variety, I thought he really helped us in some important stretches."
For Maker, it was about reading the defense, and understanding they expect him to let fly from 3-point territory.
"I was just reading the close-outs, like we do in practices. Just got to understand the game within the game," Maker explained. "Seeing guys running at me now. I have to be a playmaker. Not just a catch and shoot guy. But still, it takes making those shots for them to close out like that."
The performance was in stark contrast to his 12-point outing against Boston two games ago, where all of his points came on 3-point makes.
The festive atmosphere was running all through the Garden, as the typically exuberant crowd remained in good spirits throughout, helped on by Christmas themed entertainment at game breaks.
That festive feeling wasn’t just left off the court, with several Bucks players wearing Christmas themed shoes on the day. Maker’s kicks had gingerbread men splashed across them, and post-game, Maker explained the thought process behind the design.
"When I shoot my three ball, and I make it, I do my money symbol so I’m the ginger, BREAD, man," Maker said with a smile.
These two squads won't have much time away from each other, as the Bucks will again meet the Knicks on Friday morning (AEDT), this time at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The Bucks currently lead the season series 2-1.
The Milwaukee Bucks square-off with the New York Knicks on Friday - Tip-off is at noon.