MILWAUKEE — On the heels of James Harden’s interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols — in which the Houston Rockets star appeared to take aim at Giannis Antetokounmpo’s skill set — the reigning league MVP responded with a statement performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ 47-point win was their largest of the season, 133-86, with Antetokounmpo going off for 32 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in just over 27 minutes.
He pushed his total to nine games of posting 30 or more points in under 30 minutes in a single season, the most in the shot clock era since 1954-55.
“My game is not just power for sure,” Antetokounmpo said following the victory. “I came in when I was 18, I was 180 pounds, so to power through big guys was kind of tough.
“But obviously, it’s going to be times where you’ve got to power through guys. Like one of the best players LeBron, Michael Jordan, Kobe and all those guys… Shaq, all those guys, they were extremely physical with their play. They made their presence felt in the paint, but obviously I try to work on my game, midrange shots, 3s, being able to screen and roll faster and make the right pass.
“It’s hard to drive full speed and try to make the right pass to the corner. I try to get my passes more accurate and it’s a lot of things I’m still adding, and hopefully when I add all those things in my game, I’m a more complete player and I’m better and can help my team win and the game is easier.”
In response to Nichols mentioning Antetokounmpo’s joke about taking Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker over Harden during the NBA All-Star draft process because he wanted “somebody who’s gonna pass the ball,” the former MVP didn’t see the humor behind it.
“I wish I could be 7-feet, run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all,” Harden told Nichols during the interview, which aired Friday. “I gotta actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill. I’ll take that any day.”
Ahead of the Thunder-Bucks tip-off, though, Antetokounmpo cleared the air to ESPN that “there’s not back-and-forth” with Harden and insisted that he “never tried to take shots at somebody.”
Antetokounmpo says he understood that it may have come out that way, but would rather put his energy into basketball and his family. The Bucks were able to win without All-Star Khris Middleton (neck soreness) to improve to a league-best 51-8 on the season.
Milwaukee also extended its win streak to five straight, while making 21 3-pointers in front of Bucks legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which tied their second most in a game in franchise history.
Antetokounmpo became the second player in NBA history to average 25 points and 15 boards for a month without losing a single game he played, joining Abdul-Jabbar in March 1973.
Antetokounmpo’s plus-minus of +44 was also not only a career best, but also the highest by any player to log fewer than 30 minutes and take 20 shot attempts in a game over the past 15 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Nobody can convince those around him that skill isn’t a part of his repertoire.
“I don’t know who is criticizing him. He’s a winner,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “The kid brings it in every way, shape and form. He brings it in practice and in the locker room. He’s a great leader. He’s a great player. He does everything. I don’t know how to describe his game.”
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