Giannis Antetokounmpo stays hot, gets historic in win over Wizards

Giannis Antetokounmpo shouldered his way into Capital One Arena on a tear, the byproduct of his mission to drag his Milwaukee Bucks out of their awkward phase. The trade for Damian Lillard had tilted the team’s axis slightly, but thanks in part to Antetokounmpo averaging 36 points over the five games leading into Monday night’s meeting with the Washington Wizards, they had straightened things out just fine.

The Wizards did nothing to disrupt the Bucks’ success or Antetokounmpo’s streak. They shot 55.6 percent but do not possess the defense to prevent an onslaught from the two-time NBA MVP as they lost, 142-129.

Antetokounmpo dominated, throwing down 42 points on 20-for-23 shooting (87 percent) to become the first NBA player since Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins in 1990 — against Milwaukee, coincidentally — to shoot at least 86 percent on a minimum of 20 attempts, according to Basketball Reference. He added 13 rebounds and eight assists to a balanced attack that had six Bucks in double figures. Lillard posted 22 points and seven assists.

“[Antetokounmpo] got some easy ones early. You allow a guy of that caliber to get going — he’s a tough out anyway,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “The way he plays downhill, plays in the paint, the force he plays with, it’s hard to guard. So being able to wall him off early, minimize some of the easy ones he got in the first quarter, I think would help, but he’s been playing at such a high level. I don’t know if you put that fire out, but you want to try to minimize the easy ones.”

Washington (2-11) put forth a valiant offensive effort and led briefly in the fourth quarter but wilted late and put Milwaukee (10-4) on the foul line (21 for 28) far too often. The visitors shot 12 for 19 from the field and outrebounded the Wizards 16-5 in the final period.

Jordan Poole led the Wizards with 30 points against his hometown team. Kyle Kuzma added 22 points and a career-high 13 assists.

Jordan Poole sees the criticism. He says he isn’t worried about it.

“I thought it was positive. [Poole has] been struggling a bit from the field [but] was able to play downhill, play through some contact,” Unseld said. “Didn’t get the benefit of the whistle but just had a level of aggression. I think it’s probably a good thing for him to see that ball go in, and I think that’ll start to open things up for us.”

Despite the loss, there were signs of growth for Washington.

The Wizards entered the fourth quarter trailing 104-102 thanks to what might have been the most entertaining stretch of Washington basketball at home this season.

Kuzma corralled a bad pass from Lillard and broke away for a dunk that pulled the Wizards within four and had the forward laughing with joy with 5:33 left in the third quarter. His three-pointer a few minutes later cut Milwaukee’s edge to 96-94, and Corey Kispert compounded the fun with a bailout three-pointer at the end of a long possession in which Kuzma and rookie Bilal Coulibaly failed to get shots off. Kuzma capped the sequence with a three-pointer from 28 feet to tie the score at 100 with 1:07 left.

There were no chants for the opposing team then despite the notable number of green jerseys in the crowd. Everyone was pulling so hard for the home team that seemingly all of those in the lower bowl raised their hands in excited unison to call a travel when Antetokounmpo walked on the final possession of the quarter.

“Our tempo was good. I think we were spaced correctly. … That’s really positive,” Unseld said. “I thought Kuz was really good — good floor game, well-balanced game. Helped facilitate a lot of offense for us, so that’s a good sign.”

Coulibaly provided another highlight. The 19-year-old learned some valuable lessons facing off against Milwaukee — such as the fact that it might not be ideal to try to dunk over 7-foot-1 Brook Lopez.

But one of Coulibaly’s most valuable characteristics, especially as a player who’s supposed to take this year to absorb as much as possible, is that he moves on easily. After Lopez blocked him with 3:34 left in the first half, Coulibaly stayed aggressive, hit a three-pointer and nabbed a steal in traffic that led to an emphatic, two-handed dunk just before halftime.

Coulibaly’s redemption got the Wizards within five points as they headed to the locker room. He finished with 12 points in 25 minutes off the bench.

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