The Washington Wizards notched one of their most impressive wins of the season last month when they knocked off the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks at home, albeit with Milwaukee All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo sitting out.
The Bucks were back in town Saturday, this time — unfortunately for the Wizards — with “The Greek Freak” in tow.
Antetokounmpo scored 37 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Milwaukee to a 131-115 victory before a sellout crowd at Capital One Arena in northwest D.C.
Fellow All-Star forward Khris Middleton chipped in with 20 points, and center Brook Lopez scored 21 points, including 3-for-5 from the 3-point line. Starting point guard Eric Bledsoe sat with a sore left Achilles.
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks summed up how the Bucks jumped to a double-digit lead in the first half.
“Giannis,” he said. “He’s a pretty good player. The 12 free throws he got in the first half. He’s hard to stop.”
The superstar big man, who is 6’11” with a 7’3″ wingspan, was perfect from the line on 17 tries.
Antetokounmpo’s freakish length and athleticism were on full display Saturday, notably on several fast-break plays in which he took a mere three dribbles from beyond the half-court line to get to the rim, converting easy layups or drawing fouls.
Down 90-59 at the 7:15 mark in the third quarter, Washington went on a 16-0 run, though the last 10 came with Antetokounmpo saddled on the bench with four fouls.
When he returned, the Bucks scored on its next offensive possession thanks a one-handed jumper at the shot-clock buzzer by Middleton. The Wizards got no closer than 16 points for the rest of the game.
Washington didn’t help itself from the charity stripe, going 19 of 26, or 73 percent. In contrast, Milwaukee shot a perfect 24-for-24.
The Bucks shot 19 first-half free throws, including Antetokounmpo’s 12, compared to just seven for Washington.
Asked whether the first-half free-throw disparity frustrated the team, Wizards All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal said, “A little bit.”
“I’m not talking about the refs. It was what it was,” Beal said.
More importantly, he said, the team’s transition defense wasn’t sharp. Although the Bucks didn’t score a single fast-break point in the first half, they went 10-of-21 beyond the arc.
Milwaukee improved to a league-best 38-13, while Washington dropped to 22-30, 2½ games behind the Miami Heat for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
After the Wizards host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, they’ll travel to Wisconsin to face the Bucks again Wednesday in the teams’ third and final regular season matchup.
“We’re not going to worry too much about this one — we know we got them again,” said Wizards center Thomas Bryant, who scored 12 points in 18 minutes. “It’s a long season. You just have to keep staying the course. You never know how things can change.”