MILWAUKEE — A few minutes into the third quarter on Friday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo set a screen for Wesley Matthews at the top of the key, turned and rolled to the basket. As he made his way into the space in front of him, Matthews hit him in stride with a nifty bounce pass, and it was showtime. Giannis gathered steam, put down one dribble and exploded to the rim to place Ivica Zubac on a poster with a ferocious slam.
It was a perfect play for a perfect night, as the Milwaukee Bucks dominated the Los Angeles Clippers, turning the much-anticipated matchup between pre-season title favorites into a laugher. The Bucks couldn’t quite make it three 40-point wins in a row at home, settling instead for a 28-point victory at 119-91. But the fact that it was even a possibility — their biggest lead was 41 — shows the extent to which they were in control.
Giannis celebrated his 25th birthday in style, using a number of highlight reel plays to lead the way with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, as the Bucks secured their 14th win in a row, and improved to 20-3 on the season. They’ve now won 18 of their last 19 games, and have tied the 1971-72 and 1972-73 Bucks squads for the best start in franchise history.
“Obviously, tonight was one of our best efforts on both sides of the ball,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “To do what we did defensively and offensively is great. We’re getting closer to 48 minutes of what kind of team we want to be.”
If that was the Bucks as a still unfinished product, it’s a scary thought for the rest of the league. They completely dominated all aspects of the game against the Clippers. A leading man? You can’t ask for a better one than Giannis, who was terrific as always. Depth? Seven different bench players combined to pour in 50 points. Shooting? How about 14 3-pointers. Defense? No problem. They forced 21 turnovers with a frantic, physical effort on that side of the floor. Even as the Clippers managed to keep things somewhat competitive until early in the third quarter, there was never a question as to who was the better team.
“We’re just playing great right now, playing good basketball,” Giannis said. “I think as coach said when he came into the locker room, we’re disciplined. Teams get bored and tired, we don’t do that. We’re just playing great. We gotta keep learning, keep getting better, keep going out there playing hard. It doesn’t matter if we have two wins in a row, 14 wins in a row, we just gotta keep playing together and keep being humble.”
Staying humble might be the right mindset for the Bucks to take, but after the way they played on Friday night, you couldn’t fault them if they started feeling themselves. It’s one thing to run rampant against the talent-less Charlotte Hornets, or the hapless New York Knicks as they did in their past two home games, but to do it against another contender is another thing all together.
“I would say they played great,” Kawhi Leonard said. “They did a good job playing defense and making shots on the other end.” For a man of few words, that was high praise.
The Bucks are now tied with the Lakers for the best record in the league, have the second-best offense, the best defense, the best net rating, and are led by the best player in the world. And after their statement win on Friday night over the Clippers, it just might be time to add another superlative to that list: best team in the league.