Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tip-in with 39.1 seconds remaining allowed the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to fend off a furious Houston Rockets rally and squeeze out a 116-109 victory on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
The Bucks, winners of 11 of their last 13 games, relinquished most of their 15-point fourth-quarter lead before Antetokounmpo parlayed his 20th rebound into a six-point lead. Antetokounmpo finished with team highs in points (27) and rebounds (21), including four rebounds on the offensive end.
James Harden paced the Houston rally with 42 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The Rockets had their 10-game home winning streak snapped despite shooting 18 of 48 (37.5 per cent) on three-pointers.
The Bucks dominated the interior on both ends, outscoring Houston 70-24 in the paint while receiving superior rim protection from center Brook Lopez (four blocks) and helped limit Rockets center Clint Capela to 4-of-16 shooting. Capela totalled 18 points and 13 boards.
Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon added 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting while Khris Middleton scored 15 points. Gerald Green scored 16 off the Houston bench.
Buoyed by a strong performance from the perimeter, the Rockets suddenly went cold down the stretch of the third quarter. Harden drilled a corner three-pointer at the 4:32 mark for an 81-73 lead but Houston concluded that period by misfiring on its final six attempts from behind the arc.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, went on the offensive. The Bucks had already showcased their ability to rally from a deficit, bridging the second and third periods with a 22-9 run that yielded a 70-66 lead on a pair of Antetokounmpo free throws with 7:03 left in the third.
When the Rockets’ collective shooting touch vanished, the Bucks rolled to a 101-86 lead courtesy of a 28-5 surge. The Bucks inflicted most of their damage off the dribble, and when Brogdon wasn’t punishing scrambling defenders, Antetokounmpo was wreaking havoc on the glass and as a facilitator.
Milwaukee complemented their efficient offense by locking in defensively, with Houston enduring six-plus minutes between the Harden trey and a PJ Tucker three with 9:50 to play.
The Rockets made hay from deep in the early stages, offsetting the Bucks’ 48.9 per cent shooting in the first half by drilling 10 of 22 three-pointers.
Harden, quiet throughout the first quarter, exploded in the second (4-of-5 shooting in the period, including 3-for-3 from behind the arc). He added six free throws to complete a 17-point quarter.