Giannis Antetokounmpo had 44 points and 14 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame an electric performance by Victor Wembanyama on his 20th birthday to beat the San Antonio Spurs 125-121 on Thursday night.
Wembanyama had 27 points, and Devin Vassell led the Spurs with 34.
Wembanyama’s first meeting with Antetokounmpo was delayed by the French rookie’s sprained ankle Dec. 19 in Milwaukee, but it proved to be worth the wait.
Antetokounmpo drew a charge on Wembanyama after hitting a 3-pointer to it at 118 with three minutes remaining. The Greek star hit his second 3-pointer of the game 34 seconds later to give the Bucks a 121-118 lead.
Wembanyama responded by blocking Damian Lillard’s layup and making a 3-pointer to tie it with 53 second left.
Wembanyama blocked an attempted dunk by Antetokounmpo to set up a potential tying shot. Wembanyama passed up a contested 3-pointer to give the ball to Tre Jones, but the guard missed a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Lillard finished with 25 points and 10 assists.
Wembanyama was invigorated playing against Antetokounmpo, who the 7-foot-3 rookie from France is often compared to. Wembanyama said Antetokounmpo is one of the players he has studied the most because the 7-footer from Greece is aggressive and “scary for his opponents.”
Wembanyama dispensed his own dread to the Bucks.
Wembanyama had nine rebounds, five blocks, altered numerous shots and was 10-of-18 from the field.
Wembanyama electrified the crowd by throwing the ball off the backboard to himself for a two-handed dunk early in the second quarter. A few minutes later, he recovered defensively to block Portis’ short jumper after forcing Antetokounmpo to give up the ball near the rim.
In the opening minutes of the third quarter, Wembanyama picked up a loose ball, drove to the rim, passed the ball around his back to avoid Lillard and threw down a one-handed dunk over Brook Lopez.
His energy spread to his teammates, who put together their most complete game in what has been a dismal season.
San Antonio appeared headed for another lopsided loss in the opening minutes.
After trailing by 13 points in the first quarter, the Spurs outscored the Bucks 34-29 in the third to enter the fourth tied at 93-93. San Antonio won the third quarter for only the third time this season. The Spurs entered the game with the league’s worst third-quarter scoring margin at -6.8.
Milwaukee scored 11 straight points during the opening four minutes behind seven points from Middleton. The Bucks closed the first quarter 5-for-9 on 3-pointers.
Bucks: At Houston on Saturday night.
Spurs: At Cleveland on Sunday.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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