Giannis Antetokounmpo overpowers Wizards with career-high 55 points


MILWAUKEE — The resurgent Washington Wizards hit a 7-foot-tall, 243-pound bump in the road Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum in the form, of course, of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP and his Milwaukee Bucks were the most robust test the Wizards had faced since Delon Wright and Rui Hachimura returned from injuries late last month, and Washington looked threatening — for about 16 minutes.

After that, Antetokounmpo thundered up and down the court to score a career-high 55 points and add 10 rebounds and seven assists in the Bucks’ 123-113 win.

His achievement joins the pantheon of astounding and starry performances dotting the NBA lately. Following Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point game for Cleveland on Monday, Antetokounmpo logged the league’s fifth 50-point game in the past few days. Dallas’s Luka Doncic scored 60 points (and added a mere 21 rebounds and 10 assists) last week in a win over New York.

Antetokounmpo was rewarded with a water-bottle shower from his teammates on the court. For the Wizards, there was no reason to celebrate.

On top of the loss — which ended a five-game winning streak — the Wizards again lost Bradley Beal to left hamstring soreness after he returned from a three-game absence to play most of the first half. He felt the hamstring tighten up after checking back in with 6:54 to play in the half, subbed out with 2:29 remaining and never returned. He had eight points in 13 minutes.

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“I tried to make a few accelerations, and [it] kind of prevented me from doing that,” Beal said. “It’s frustrating because I didn’t have that the last 48 hours. Nobody wants to play more than me. But I’ve just got to be smart about it.”

Beal said he couldn’t place even a loose timeline on his full return because hamstrings are tricky — he’ll feel fine one day, he said, then try to do something explosive on the court and feel the injury again.

This is his third extended absence of the season after missing six games with a right hamstring strain in December and five games in November after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“It’s tough. It is frustrating. I always preach your best ability is your availability, and I haven’t been that. That piece is definitely frustrating, but I have to be encouraged and understand that there’s still more that I can contribute to the game,” Beal said. “… It’s tough because we’re playing good ball. I want to be a part of that.”

Washington (17-22) hung tough without him, even working its way within five points late in the fourth quarter. But after a strong start, the Wizards were always chasing Milwaukee (24-13) and never asserting themselves.

The game turned on Antetokounmpo’s whim. Every time the Bucks’ lead got too small in the fourth quarter, he was there with a suavely drawn foul or a bruising layup to bump it back to a comfortable edge. Although their defense was inconsistent, the Wizards didn’t fall apart as much as they didn’t have anything game-changing to pull out of their toolbox down the stretch. They had no ringer to bring in late, no extra dimension to show the Bucks.

The Wizards spent most of the game erasing 10-point deficits, only to fall back into a hole minutes later. The first and most consequential of such stretches came midway through the second quarter, when Washington did well capitalizing on turnovers. But the Bucks, in addition to having a human cheat code in Antetokounmpo, proved to be excellent problem-solvers.

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With the score tied at 49, Antetokounmpo promptly scored seven straight points against a Washington defense that had grown comfortable. The Bucks put some bigger bodies on the court — 6-11 Bobby Portis and 6-7 MarJon Beauchamp — to match up with Washington’s guards on the other end. The Wizards’ offensive flow dried up, and Antetokounmpo hogged rebounds to log second-chance points.

Washington’s final bucket of the half came with 3:55 remaining, and the Bucks closed on a 15-0 run to take a 61-49 lead into halftime. That run wrested control from Washington and set the tone for the rest of the game.

“There has to be just a little more urgency to get below the ball,” Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said when asked how the Wizards could have defended Antetokounmpo better. “There has to be a wall because it only takes him three, maybe four dribbles to go the length of the floor. So getting bodies below that, show him the crowd early and take away those seams — tough to do in transition, but that’s the only way.”

Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 22 points and added nine rebounds and four assists. Kyle Kuzma had 20 points, and Daniel Gafford chipped in 11 points and 12 rebounds. Three scorers stepped up off the bench, with Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert scoring 12 points each.

Brook Lopez added 21 points and 12 rebounds for Milwaukee, but Antetokounmpo provided more than enough on his own.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Doncic fueled the NBA’s scoring surge with his 60-point game Dec. 27. He followed that with 51 points Dec. 31 against San Antonio. Golden State’s Klay Thompson had 54 points against Atlanta the same night Mitchell dropped 71 on Chicago.

Wisconsin native Johnny Davis stayed in Washington to receive treatment on a hip injury, Unseld said. Although Davis, the No. 10 pick in last year’s draft, has been on assignment with the Wizards’ G League affiliate for more than half of the season, it wouldn’t have been unusual for him to travel with the Wizards for a homecoming trip — especially with the team in Milwaukee for four days.

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