MILWAUKEE — After leading by as much as 17 in the first half, the Milwaukee Bucks found themselves locked in a hard-fought battle with the Washington Wizards late on Tuesday night. They briefly surrendered the lead in the fourth quarter, and with just over six minutes to go were clinging to a five-point advantage.
That’s when everything changed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pass from Jrue Holiday off an offensive rebound and was about to take off for the rim when Montrezl Harrell hammered him with a hard foul. Bobby Portis rushed in to get in Harrell’s face, and Fiserv Forum came alive. Cooler heads prevailed from there, but the referees did upgrade Harrell’s foul to a flagrant one after a review.
“That’s a dangerous play,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “So I think the refs went and looked at it and came with the flagrant one. Felt appropriate, you just always want to protect the players. Same thing in a different way, Bobby’s gonna protect his teammates. Bobby’s gonna be there for his teammates. He brings a passion, he brings a physicality, a toughness to us that’s much needed.”
Giannis drained both free throws to push the lead to seven, and the Bucks closed on a 19-10 run to secure a 112-98 win that was not quite as comfortable as the final score indicates. Leading the way as per usual, Giannis finished with 33 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks on 14-of-21 from the field. That was good for his 29th career triple-double, which put him past Michael Jordan for 18th place on the all-time list.
“Bobby has my back and I have his back too,” Giannis said. “I respect all of my teammates, but I respect the s— out of Bobby for doing that. At the end of the day, we as a team we gotta set the tone. Like if somebody gets fouled hard, we’re not gonna let that happen. Especially in Milwaukee, in our house. Or even on the road. We can play basketball, we can foul one another, but at the end of the day if it gets a little dangerous out there we gotta be able to shut it down. But I’m OK.”
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It was even more impressive how he took over down the stretch. After that flagrant foul, Giannis either scored or assisted on 11 of the Bucks’ 19 points down the stretch. He was bullying his way to the basket, finding open teammates and even came up with a huge block on Kyle Kuzma. All told, Giannis put up 13 points, six rebounds and three assists in the fourth.