NEW YORK — Giannis Antetokounmpo was so eager to make a rim-rocking Christmas debut that he overshot the basket on his first attempt, a dunk from one side that ended with the ball all the way in the opposite corner.
“I was so excited that I went a little bit too high and I thought the rim was a foot taller,” Antetokounmpo said.
He and the Milwaukee Bucks eventually settled down and showed they belonged on the holiday stage.
Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 14 rebounds, and Milwaukee celebrated its return to the Christmas schedule by beating the New York Knicks 109-95 on Tuesday.
“This is one of the highest stages,” Antetokounmpo said. “Special teams play Christmas Day, and just it’s an opportunity for us and we’re really happy.”
Brook Lopez scored 20 points for the Bucks, who played on Christmas for the first time since 1977. They were selected for the showcase slate of games largely because of Antetokounmpo but the timing also was perfect to show an emerging team, which improved the NBA’s second-best record to 23-10.
Malcolm Brogdon finished with 17 points for the Bucks, the NBA scoring leaders who bounced back from a season-low 87 points in a loss to Miami on Saturday to win for the fifth time in six games.
“People come to see Giannis play but they’ve got to watch all of us, so it’s definitely a great opportunity for the rest of us to showcase as a team what we can do,” Brogdon said.
Rookie Kevin Knox scored 21 points for the Knicks, who have lost six straight Christmas Day games and fell to 22-31 in their NBA-record 53 appearances on the holiday.
“It’s on me to stay even in this whole thing, not be up and down emotionally because I (have) to keep their spirits up,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “They feel it. They’re human.”
New York has lost five in a row and 10 of 11 since rallying to stun the Bucks 136-134 in overtime on Dec. 1 at Madison Square Garden.
Antetokounmpo was angry that night with Knicks forward Mario Hezonja, who had dunked over him in the first quarter, then stared and stepped over him. Antetokounmpo felt it was disrespectful, vowing to punch Hezonja in the groin next time.
The Greek Freak was perhaps a little too pumped for the rematch — Brogdon grabbed the rebound of his errant dunk in the corner and fired in a 3-pointer — but he quickly got untracked.