NBA: Antetokounmpo leads Bucks over Wembanyama's Spurs, Nuggets down Warriors

AFP , Friday 5 Jan 2024

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo's 44 points, held off the San Antonio Spurs 125-121 on Thursday despite another stellar performance from Victor Wembanyama on his 20th birthday.

Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket against San Antonio Spurs Jeremy Sochan (10) and Tre Jones, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)


In the other match of a marquee double-header Thursday, Nikola Jokic drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the reigning champion Denver Nuggets a 130-127 victory over the Golden State Warriors -- who had led by 18 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Wembanyama was restricted to 26 minutes on the floor in his highly anticipated first encounter with Antetokounmpo as he recovers from the ankle trouble that saw him miss the Spurs' December game in Milwaukee.

The French rookie scored 27 points with nine rebounds and five blocked shots.

Devin Vassell led the Spurs with 34 points, but the highlight-reel battle between Antetokounmpo and Wembanyama stole the show in San Antonio.

"He's unbelievable, unbelievable talent," Antetokounmpo said of Wembanyama, whose combination of size and skill has drawn comparisons to the Greek superstar.

Wembanyama thrilled fans with an array of jaw-dropping shots, including a first-half dunk off his own bounce off the backboard.

"He can score at will, anytime he wants. Plays the right way, plays to win. It was good playing against him," said Antetokounmpo, who grabbed 14 rebounds as the Bucks improved to 25-10, the third best record in the league.

The entertaining contest was tied 93-93 heading into a fourth quarter that featured eight lead changes, the Spurs battling for the upset in a season that has seen them win just five games.

For Wembanyama it was also a chance to test himself against a player he "grew up watching" in Antetokounmpo -- a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who led the Bucks to the NBA title in 2021.

"It's always extra motivation," Wembanyama said. "I want to go at everyone and be the bad guy on the court. So it was a great match-up."

Antetokounmpo drained a three-pointer to tie it up at 118-118 with three minutes to play. He then drew a charge call on Wembanyama and less than a minute later drilled another three-pointer to put the Bucks up 121-118.

'Incredible' Jokic

Wembanyama answered with a big block of a Damian Lillard layup and a three-pointer that tied it with 1:09 remaining.

A dunk from Antetokounmpo put the Bucks back in front, but Wembanyama blocked another shot from a driving Antetokounmpo to keep the Spurs within reach.

A heavily guarded Wembanyama found open teammate Tre Jones for a potential game-tying three-pointer with just over a second to play, but Jones's shot didn't fall.

"Of course the outcome isn't what we wanted, but it was the widest open shot," Wembanyama said, adding that the Spurs' overall performance was encouraging.

"Just the fact that we can compete with a championship level team like this is promising," he said.

In San Francisco, Jokic sealed the Nuggets' comeback win with a shot from just inside halfcourt, finishing with 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting.

The two-time NBA MVP added nine rebounds and 10 assists.

Jokic's step-back basket had tied it at 127-127 with 26 seconds remaining.

Teammate Jamal Murray then came up with a steal of an ill-judged Stephen Curry pass to set the stage for Jokic, who took an inbounds pass and headed up the court, pulling up to bank in the game-winner over Kevon Looney.

"Great players make great plays," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

"Nikola catching the ball there and making something behind that, it's just incredible ... I'm very proud of our group for staying with it."

Aaron Gordon added 30 points and Jamal Murray scored 25 for the Nuggets.

Curry led Golden State with 30 points and six assists. Klay Thompson added 24 points for the Warriors, who outscored the Nuggets 44-24 in the third quarter to seize control of the contest and were up by 18 with 6:51 to play.

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