The bout between Eastern and Western Conference No. 1 seeds ended with the Los Angeles Lakers walking away as victors over the Milwaukee Bucks and playoff bound for the first time since 2013.
L.A. defeated the Bucks in their second and final regular season matchup after losing to the Bucks 111-104 on Dec. 19 in Milwaukee.
“It felt like two teams feeling each other out and had a playoff atmosphere to it,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said about the close first half.
The Lake Show entered halftime tied at 48 after the Bucks led most of the first half thanks to a 13-5 lead early in the first quarter.
A tone shift occurred when LeBron James picked up Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on defense.
“Just taking the challenge, taking responsibility defensively that’s what it came down to,” James said about matching up versus last year’s MVP.
James registered 37 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in 36 minutes.
Milwaukee came out strong again leading 55-50 in the first few minutes of the third when the Lakers sparked an 18-0 run beginning with fifteen points between the Anthony Davis and LeBron James duo. The game was 68-57 when the Bucks finally got a bucket from Eric Bledsoe with 6:35 left in the second period.
The Bucks weren’t done though. They rallied with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter beginning with a a layup from forward Antetokounmpo that made the game 85-94. Milwaukee would bring it as close as 94-98.
James and Davis would close the game out combining for 13 of their team’s final 15 points in the contest. James put the dagger on the game with 27.6 seconds left by driving for a dunk that made it 111-101.
“Obviously, we lost to them up in Milwaukee so we wanted to get this one,” Davis said after beating the team with the best record in the NBA.
The Brow finished 30 points and 9 rebounds on 10-of-24 from the field.
“We never want to lose to a team all the time,” Davis added about beating the Bucks before another game versus a Clippers team they have not beat yet.
L.A. out rebounded the Bucks 52 to 45. They also shot 31-of-38 from the free throw lined versus a Bucks team that made 17-of-22 free throw attempts.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma led reserves with 11 points and 8 rebounds.
“Super Excited,” Kuzma said about the team clinching a playoff berth for the the first time since 2013. “My first years were kind of rough lots of Ls and development.”
The third-year player added that the win over the Bucks was more significant because Milwaukee handed them the worst loss of their season.
“Credit to the Lakers tonight, they were just better than us,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said after his team’s loss. “We weren’t sharp in a lot of ways.”
Milwaukee got 32 points and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes from Antetokounmpo. He went down with a scary fall in the fourth quarter on an and-one attempt.
“We definitely did not play smart,” Antetokounmpo said about his team fouling the Lakers too much in the loss.
Bucks all-star guard Khris Middleton struggled with 12 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds in 36 minutes. He shot 5-of-19 from the field.
“A lot of that was on me, just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Middleton said after the loss. “It was still a ball game, we still had a chance to win.”
Otherwise, four of the five Bucks starters finished in double-digits scoring. Donte DiVincenzo led Bucks reserves with 17 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
“They’re a great team, we just have to sharpen up defensively,” Vincenzo said after the loss. The 2018 first round pick finished 7-of-13 from the field.
Bucks Versus Lakers Notes:
The Milwaukee Bucks started put the Lakers with a five to nothing run to open the game. However, Lakers guard Danny Green found JaVale McGee for a one-handed alley-oop that put the Lakers on the board.
Davis got the Lakers rolling with an and-one at the 5:35 mark in the first. LeBron James found Davis for an alley-oop on the next possession. Then, James scored his own layup after another Lakers stop bringing them within one at 12-13.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a layup at the buzzer of the first quarter to make the game 19-22, in favor of the Bucks.
Los Angeles brought it back in the second quarter. However, the Bucks made a nice run capped off with a Brooke Lopez three that gave Milwaukee a 36-27 lead.
Alex Caruso hit a big three to bring the Lakers within six before the halfway mark in the second.
L.A. took their first lead of the game with 2:18 left in the second thanks to a one-handed LeBron James dunk.
The Lakers tied the game at 48 at halftime thanks to a transition three from Kyle Kuzma.
Milwaukee took the lead out of halftime scoring off Antetokounmpo and-one with 11:33 in the third. The Bunks would lead by as much as 55-50 in the first two minutes of the second half.
Los Angeles got within striking distance off an alley oop from Anthony Davis that made it 54-55. LeBron James hit a three on the next possession that made it 57-55 with nine minutes left in the third. James stretched the Lakers lead with free throws and a jumper on the next two Lakers possessions. Davis hit a layup to give them a 63-55 lead as L.A. continued their run.
Green capped off the 18-0 run with a three-pointer as Eric Bledsoe finally stopped the bleeding for the Bucks with an and-one that made the game 68-58 in favor of the Lakers.
The crowd went while as James sized up Giannis at the top of the arc and took him to the rack for a layup that gave the Lakers the 74-63 advantage.
The teams would trade until the third quarter buzzer sounded with L.A. leading 87-76.
Giannis brought them within eight with a three-point play. DiVincenzo hit a three on the next Lakers posession that made it 89-94 in favor of the Lakers.
L.A. answer but so would the Bucks with another three bringing the game to 92-96 with six minutes left in the fourth and Milwaukee still trailing.
Anthony Davis helped the Lakers close the game with six points in the last few minutes of the fourth including a tip, pull up and free throws capping off a 108-99 lead.
James put the dagger into the Bucks with a spin move and dunk to make the game 111-101 with 20.3 seconds remaining.
The Lakers play the Clippers for the first time since losing to their Staples Center rivals on Christmas Day, this Sunday. The Lake Show currently hold a game lead over the Clippers for the first seed in the Western Conference standings.
Otherwise, Milwaukee continues their road trip by facing the Phoenix Suns on Sunday as well.