Antetokounmpo pumps in 44, Bucks outlast Blazers

(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

(TSX / STATS) -- MILWAUKEE -- With under a minute to play and his team down one, Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to save the night for the Milwaukee Bucks, only to miss both shots.

Turns out, that was all the motivation the Greek Freak needed.

Antetokounmpo followed up those misses with a steal, a go-ahead dunk and a game-saving block in the final seconds as Milwaukee held off the Portland Trail Blazers for a 113-110 victory Saturday night at the Bradley Center.

"I wanted the game badly," said Antetokounmpo, who set a career high with 44 points in the victory. "I missed those two big free throws but I couldn't end the game like that. We had to keep fighting and I needed to show the right example and that's what I did."

It was just the latest chapter in what's been a breakout season for Antetokounmpo. He scored 31 and 34 points, respectively, in Milwaukee's first two games but his 44 Saturday puts him atop the league with 38.3 points per game.

"He's only getting better and stronger," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "He's a special player and he's going to do a lot. But we can't count on him to do that every night."

Antetokounmpo had 27 through the first three quarters Saturday as Milwaukee built an 84-80 lead heading into the fourth. He scored 15 of Milwaukee's first 25 points in the final quarter, giving the Bucks a 108-101 lead when he hit an 18-foot pull-up jumper with 3:09 to play.

The Blazers responded with a 9-1 run and took a 110-109 lead when Damian Lillard hit a pair of free throws with 57 seconds to go.

Lillard lost the ball on Portland's next possession and a foul on Jusuf Nurkic sent Antetokounmpo to the line, setting the stage for his final act.

He forced a turnover on the other end and Malcolm Brogdon found Antetokounmpo streaking down the court for an easy dunk, putting the Bucks ahead.

"We want him at the line down the stretch and we believe he's going to make those free throws," Kidd said. "I think he felt like he might have owed us one for that, and that's what he does on the defensive end. "

The Blazers had one more chance, getting the ball down to Nurkic but Antetokounmpo got right in front of him and forced the turnover.

"He's a special player," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He gets to where he wants to go. I thought our guys worked him had, but he was pretty effective."

Lillard and C.J. McCollum led Portland with 26 points each and Jusuf Nurkic added 17 for the Blazers, who managed to stay close all night despite shooting a season-low 42.5 percent from the floor.

While Antetokounmpo has carried the offensive load almost on his for Milwaukee this season, he got plenty of help Saturday. Khris Middleton snapped out of a small, early-season funk and scored 18 points on 6 of 13 shooting. Tony Snell knocked down three 3-pointers to finish with 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon added 13.

With both teams playing the back end of their first back-to-backs of the season, it was slow-going early but the Blazers managed to take a 26-24 lead despite shooting only 33 percent in the opening quarter by going 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

But Antetokounmpo hit 6 of 7 shots to score 15 points in the second quarter and Milwaukee went into the break with a 60-55 lead.

"They're a very good team," Stotts said. "They have a lot of length. Despite the fact we shot around 40 percent most of the game, we just kept hanging around... it's disappointing to lose in the last three seconds but it was a good effort."

NOTES: Bucks F Giannis Antetkounmpo scored a career-high 44 points and through three games, leads the league in scoring with 38.3 points per game. ... The Bucks have won three straight games against Portland and four in a row against the Blazers in Milwaukee ... The Trail Blazers' last victory at Milwaukee came on Nov. 20, 2013. ... Portland C Jusuf Nurkic recorded his second double-double of the season Saturday, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He had 13 double-doubles a year ago. ... Bucks C Greg Monroe was retroactively assessed with a flagrant-1 foul after NBA officials reviewed a play from Friday's game that resulted in Cleveland's Derrick Rose suffering an ankle injury.

Updated October 22, 2017

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