NBA: Giannis shines as Bucks hold on, Harden nets 49 as Rockets blast off
Milwaukee boasted the best record at 53-12 when the league was shut down in mid-March due to the global pandemic
Giannis Antetokounmpo shook off the rust of a long layoff by scoring 36 points to power the Milwaukee Bucks to a 119-112 victory over the Boston Celtics in their first game of the NBA's restarted season.
Milwaukee, who are trying to win their first NBA title since 1971, boasted the best record at 53-12 when the league was shut down in mid-March due to the global pandemic.
"We just got the stops. We tried to play hard, make the right play and hit open guy," said Antetokounmpo.
In the late game, James Harden scored 49 points and the Houston Rockets outgunned the Dallas Mavericks 153-149 in a high-scoring Western Conference contest that went into overtime.
The Bucks trailed by two points at the half, then built a big lead and held on in the fourth quarter to beat the Celtics in the battle between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses.
The 25-year-old Antetokounmpo also had 15 rebounds, seven assists and five fouls. He almost fouled out with 88 seconds to go but after a video review the officials overturned a sixth foul call, allowing him to stay in the game and lead the Bucks to victory.
Khris Middleton scored 18 points and added eight assists, while Brook Lopez tallied 14 points and made six blocks for the Bucks, who came into the game holding a 6 1/2 game lead over second place Toronto.
Both teams did a good job of acclimating themselves to their new surroundings, which includes playing without fans at the Disney World complex that is acting as the "bubble" venue for the 22 teams taking part in the restart.
The players benches have been moved back from the sidelines and the area was enlarged so the coaches and reserves could sit apart at safe distances and cheer their teammates on at The Arena.
Before the game the players from both teams, wearing shirts reading "Black Lives Matter", linked arms and kneeled together during the playing of the American national anthem, as other teams have done during the restart.
NBA players were given the option during the restart to display a social justice message on the back of their jerseys in place of their family names. Some stars, like LeBron James, decided to stick with their names, but Antetokounmpo chose to go with the word "Equality".
"I love that we can talk together, we can kneel together before the game. That was amazing," said Antetokounmpo. "We have momentum right now. The whole world has the momentum right now and we can't stop. We got to keep going until we make it right."
Antetokounmpo remains on track to become the NBA's first back-to-back MVP since Stephen Curry in 2015-16.
Heading into Friday's game he was averaging a robust 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season.
It was his 19th straight double double matching the longest streak in the league this season which also belongs to him.
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