Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 20 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks rode a fast start to beat the Orlando Magic 111-96 on Thursday and tie the Eastern Conference first-round series at a game apiece.
The Bucks boasted the NBA’s best regular-season record at 56-17, but went 3-5 in the eight seeding games at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and opened the playoffs by losing 122-110 to Orlando.
Milwaukee bounced back Thursday, building a 23-point lead in the first half, though Orlando got the margin down to nine in the fourth quarter.
Brook Lopez scored 20 points and Pat Connaughton had 15 on 5-of-8 3-point shooting for Milwaukee. Eric Bledsoe had 13 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 11.
Orlando's Nikola Vucevic followed up his 35-point effort in the opener by scoring 32 points. Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross each had 12, Markelle Fultz had 11 and D.J. Augustin added 10.
The difference between the first and second games of this series was in
The Bucks' defensive intensity was the difference between the two games.
Orlando had no points in the paint for the entire first quarter and went nearly eight minutes without a basket during a first-half stretch.
After Vucevic made a jump shot to cut Milwaukee’s lead to four with 5:34 left in the first quarter, the Magic missed their next 13 field-goal attempts. Orlando wouldn’t make another basket and fell behind by 16 before Ross hit a jumper with 9:48 remaining until halftime.
But the Magic then missed their next six shots as the Bucks stretched their lead to 23.
Milwaukee led 64-43 at the intermission, with Antetotkounmpo capping the first half by dunking off Connaughton's pass with four-tenths of a second remaining.
Orlando made it somewhat interesting in the second half.
Vucevic scored 16 points in the third quarter alone to help the Magic cut the deficit to 12, though Milwaukee got the margin back up to 20 by the end of the period. Orlando continued to hang around and made it 101-92 on Fultz's jumper with 3:56 left, but the Magic couldn’t get any closer.
Magic: Orlando again played without injured forward Aaron Gordon and guard Michael Carter-Williams. Gordon has a strained left hamstring, while Williams has a strained tendon in his left foot. “I think Aaron is closer than Mike,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said before the game. “He just doesn’t have the strength back in the leg, but actually watching him yesterday, they played some live two-on-two, and he’s moving a lot better than he was when they played on Monday. I think he’s closer, but it just depends on how things progress and how much stronger he feels by tomorrow.”
Bucks: Milwaukee needs more production from Khris Middleton. The All-Star forward scored just two points and shot 1 of 8. He has shot 5 of 20 from the floor so far in the series.
Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is Saturday.