MILWAUKEE — As Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo charged toward the basket during the closing seconds of a tie game against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, he knew he was going to have to get creative to score.
So, Antetokounmpo flipped the ball off the bottom of the glass with a finger roll to guide it into the hoop and seal a 127-125 victory for the Bucks. His heroics capped off a 40-point, 12-rebound, 9-assist performance and helped lead the Bucks to their eighth consecutive victory.
“If you just go normal, most likely you’re going to get blocked, so you’ve got to be sneaky with it,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “I’m getting old. I’m not able to dunk on people anymore, so I’ve got to be sneaky.”
Sneaky isn’t usually a word used to describe Antetokounmpo’s game, especially considering what a dominant force he can be in the paint.
But even his teammates, who are used to seeing him pull off incredible feats with regularity, marveled at his ability to finish the layup with that kind of touch around the glass.
“People talk about him just being dominant, but on that shot you can see the skill that he has,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “He’s not always dunking over people. That’s a tough layup even for guards, and he’s a 7-footer coming down at the end of game, going over and then under an arm and then flipping it with a little bit of spin off the glass. That just shows you the type of skill that he has as a player.”
Wednesday marked just the fourth time in Antetokounmpo’s career he has made the go-ahead field goal inside the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime and the first time since 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Bucks needed Antetokounmpo’s shot to hold off the Hornets and a career-best scoring performance from LaMelo Ball, who knocked down a contested 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining to tie the game. Ball finished with a career-high 36 points to go along with nine assists and five rebounds.
Once Ball tied the game, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer spread the floor with four shooters surrounding Antetokounmpo, providing him the space to attack the basket with a one-on-one matchup against Hornets forward P.J. Washington.
“That’s a hell of a finish,” Budenholzer said. “He’s just so talented and he does so much around the rim. The dunks and everything get a lot of attention, for good reason, but his ability to use the glass and his ability to play fast — when you’re going downhill that hard to have touch off the board and things like that, it’s just a great finish, a great play by Giannis.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, have continued to roll ever since they have had close to their full lineup back on the floor.
Their eight-game winning streak coincided with Middleton’s return to the court after contracting COVID-19, and Milwaukee is still undefeated this season (10-0) when Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all in the starting lineup.
“You want all your guys to be healthy to give yourself a better chance to win,” Middleton said. “So far, we’ve been banged up, still got a couple guys missing. With the group that we have right now, I think we’re playing well. We’re trending toward the right direction right now.”