Bucks bounce back to punish Pacers

Los Angeles: The NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks broke out of a mini slump and the Oklahoma City Thunder kept up their playoff push on Thursday. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and made 12 rebounds as the first place Bucks regained their swagger by cruising to a 117-98 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
“We just tried to play hard and get back on track,” Antetokounmpo said. “We got back to our old habits and started defending and helping one another on defence.”
In the late game, Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined for 69 points as the Thunder overcame Damian Lillard’s 51-points to beat the Trail Blazers 129-121 in a thrilling overtime contest in Portland.
The Bucks had hit a snag as they were coming off losing back-to-back games for the first time this season when they failed to hold big leads against the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz.
The funk didn’t last long, though, as they bounced back nicely against the Pacers. Khris Middleton added 27 points for the Bucks, who improved to a NBA-best 49-16 on the season.
“The last two games we had trouble holding onto a lead,” said Middleton. “It was great to get this win and get back to what we do.”
Myles Turner had 22 points and Bojan Bogdanovic 17 for the Pacers, who lost star guard Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury last month.
The loss also ended Bogdanovic’s streak of five straight 20-point games.
The Bucks have now beaten the Pacers in four of five contests this season.
The Bucks opened their largest lead of the first half at 47-33 on two free throws by Antetokounmpo, but the Pacers went on a 17-7 run to close within 54-50 at the break.
“Too much Antetokounmpo, too much Middleton,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “When they have the attack at the basket and are knocking down threes, they’re going to be tough to guard.
“They were pretty much knocking shots down from the perimeter and getting shots at the rim tonight. We missed some shots. We had some open looks that you need to knock down and we didn’t early.”
Milwaukee went on a 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter to take command of the game. Pacers Kyle O’Quinn scored a basket to cut the Bucks’ lead to 84-74 to start the final quarter.
Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova sparked the run with a three pointer and Antetokounmpo capped it with a driving layup to make it 96-74 with 8:21 remaining.
Elsewhere, Westbrook scored 37 points and George tallied 32 points as the Thunder swept the season series against the Trail Blazers by winning all four games.
“In overtime we got three or four stops in a row and made some big buckets,” said Westbrook. “It was a great road win for us, especially this time of year.”
Lillard also had nine assists, CJ McCollum added 25 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 13 points and 17 rebounds for the Trail Blazers.
In the overtime, Westbrook set the tone by scoring five of the Thunder’s first seven points on a three-pointer and two free throws for a 120-117 lead with 2:53 left.
Nurkic ejected
George hit one of two foul shots for a 121-117 advantage, and Westbrook’s layup made it 123-117 with just over two minutes left.
George made two foul shots for a seven-point lead with 55 seconds remaining.
The game got heated at times as Westbrook and George both had run-ins with Portland’s Nurkic.