NBA: Antetokounmpo return sparks Bucks over Kings

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks over Trey Lyles of the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Centre. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES – Giannis Antetokounmpo believes that it is a matter of time before the in-form Sacramento Kings can be contenders for the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship.

On Monday night, the Milwaukee Bucks’ star forward returned from injury with a vengeance, scoring 46 points to lead his team to a come-from-behind 133-124 road victory over the Kings.

He was asked afterwards what Sacramento will need to take that next step up.

“Time,” he said, as quoted by the Sacramento Bee newspaper.

“They’re playing great basketball... playing fast, creating open threes, finding open guys. They have a great big man (Domantas Sabonis) that can pass, score, rebound. He’s playing unbelievable.

“They’re having an unbelievable year and will make the play-offs, probably go deep into the play-offs. So, it’s a matter of time.

“They’re going to figure it out and be a very, very good team. But they need to go to the play-offs. They need to win a series, lose a series, play a Game 7, win on the road. That’s going to give them experience. They’re going to be a really, really good team in the future.”

A tense duel ended with tempers flaring as the Bucks’ Brook Lopez and Sacramento’s Trey Lyles clashed angrily in the closing seconds, sparking a mass melee and the ejection of both players.

Despite the incident, Lopez, who had 23 points, said that he had enjoyed the Bucks’ victory at the Golden 1 Centre, their eighth win in their last 10 games.

“It was a really fun environment to play in,” he said.

“Sacramento always has great fans, great team this year. You get the cowbells and everything like that and all stuff I remember. It was a really fun atmosphere.”

Antetokounmpo finished with 12 rebounds and four assists as the Bucks found their scoring touch in the third and fourth quarters to pile up 80 second-half points.

The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player had missed the Bucks’ last three games, including last Saturday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.

But his return to the line-up could not have been more timely against a Sacramento team who have emerged as the surprise package of the Western Conference. They sit third on 40-27 behind the Denver Nuggets (46-22) and the Memphis Grizzlies (41-26).

Antetokounmpo was also backed by 31 points from Khris Middleton as the Bucks overturned a 15-point deficit to claim victory.

Milwaukee improved to 49-19 and have opened up a 2.5 game lead at the top of the Eastern Conference over second-placed Boston (47-22), surprisingly beaten by lowly Houston earlier on Monday.

De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento’s scoring with 35 points from 13-of-23 shooting, while Sabonis had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists for his 10th triple-double of the season for the Kings.

“Their team is very good at putting us in a situation where we take our foot off the accelerator,” said Sabonis. “That’s what we did in the second half, unacceptable.”

Elsewhere, Klay Thompson scored 38 points as Golden State claimed another scalp with a 123-112 win over the Phoenix Suns at the Chase Centre. AFP

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