Giannis Antetokounmpo would not go quietly on Friday night.
The star forward matched his career-high of 44 points to go along with 14 rebounds and eight assists, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 114-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Antetokounmpo made 14 of 19 shots and 16 of 21 free throws, erasing the memories of a 13-point showing Wednesday night in a loss to Indiana where he took just seven shots.
Antetokounmpo dunked on the Bucks’ first possession of the night, and Milwaukee jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never trailed. The dunk set a tone, as Antetokounmpo would score 26 of his points in the paint. With 16 more at the line, Antetokounmpo scored just two from the field that weren’t in the paint.
The Bucks (19-9) led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and held off a Cleveland rally in the fourth quarter that saw the Cavs get within five.
The Bucks won despite missing two starters with injuries. Khris Middleton (sprained right pinkie) and Malcolm Brogdon were not available, but the Bucks shrugged those absences off thanks to Antetokounmpo’s huge night.
Tony Snell and Pat Connaughton filled in for Middleton and Brogdon. Snell made two 3-pointers in the Bucks’ 9-0 start, then didn’t score again. Connaughton also tallied six points.
Brook Lopez added 19 for the Bucks, and Eric Bledsoe posted another strong performance of 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to lead the Cavaliers (7-22) with 23 points, and Rodney Hood added 19. Former Buck Matthew Dellavedova, traded last weekend, had 10.
The Bucks got back to .500 on the road at 6-6.
Antetokounmpo claimed four offensive rebounds on the night, dunking on the last two in the second half to put a crimp in the Cavs’ rally. After the Cavs had cut a 17-point lead down to seven in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo’s putback dunk gave the Bucks an 86-77 lead with 1:18 left in the third. His putback dunk with 5:30 left in the game gave the Bucks a 100-92 lead