LOS ANGELES • In a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview on Sunday, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a season-high 49 points and outduelled Kevin Durant as the Milwaukee Bucks edged out the visiting Brooklyn Nets 117-114 in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Antetokounmpo, who missed Friday's game against the Chicago Bulls with an ankle injury, delivered the dunk that put the Bucks ahead for good with just under eight minutes left.
The 49 points were the third-most of his career and his highest tally since he scored 50 against the Utah Jazz on Nov 25, 2019.
"You want to be a part of games like this," the two-time reigning Most Valuable Player said of the battle between the two highest-scoring teams in the league.
"Growing up, you want to play against the best and coming down to the wire, going back and forth, that's what you always dreamed about."
He shot 21 of 36 from the floor and added eight rebounds while teammate Khris Middleton finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Durant shot 16 of 33 from the field as he equalled a season-high 42 and grabbed 10 rebounds for the East's second-placed Nets (43-22).
The Philadelphia 76ers are leading the conference (43-21) after defeating San Antonio 113-111 in overtime later on Sunday.
Durant missed a pair of potential game-tying three-pointers in the final 30 seconds, including a shot that glanced off the rim just before the buzzer, and the Bucks (40-24) maintained their hopes of finishing first in the East for the third straight season.
Antetokounmpo said he tried to focus on the strengths in his game and not the showdown with Durant.
"KD is one of the greatest scorers ever to play the game," he said. "If you try to go back and forth with him, he's going to score 70. I was able to slow down and get to my spots. I kept being aggressive."
Kyrie Irving scored 20 points and Landry Shamet tallied 17 for Brooklyn, who have won four of their past six games.
The two teams play again tonight in Milwaukee, with the Nets still missing injured star James Harden.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo recorded a career-high 52 points in a 130-125 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2018-19 season.
Elsewhere, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry combined for 76 points as the Toronto Raptors kept their play-off hopes alive with a 121-114 win over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, who saw superstar LeBron James exit in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers have lost six of their last seven and are learning that the insertion of James back into the line-up is not going to be a cure-all for their woes.
He finished with 19 points in 28 minutes but the 36-year-old also had five turnovers in just his second game back after missing 20 with a right ankle injury - the longest absence of his NBA career.
He reinjured his right ankle and his status is unclear for this morning's (Singapore time) game against the visiting Denver Nuggets.
"The most important thing for me is to be healthy and be at full strength when it really matters," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS