Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to action Monday night, and the Milwaukee Bucks returned to the win column. Those two developments were closely related.
Antetokounmpo tallied 29 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and four blocked shots, leading the Bucks to a 112-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.
The Bucks (42-14) improved to 14-0 in games after a loss. They are guaranteed to enter the all-star break without having lost consecutive games. They close the pre-break schedule Wednesday night at Indiana.
Eric Bledsoe added 19 points for the Bucks, Malcolm Brogdon chipped in 17 and Khris Middleton 16 as the Bucks regained their offensive mojo.
Antetokounmpo sat out Saturday night with right knee soreness, and the Bucks turned in their worst performance of the season in a 103-83 loss to the Orlando Magic. In that loss, the Bucks shot 32.8% (31 for 95) and went 6 for 35 on 3-pointers. Monday looked like it might be a repeat performance, as the Bucks were just 5 for 21 and 1 for 11 on 3-pointers before Ersan Ilyasova made a pair of threes and another jumper in the final 2;16 of the first period to help the Bucks to a 22-21 lead.
The Bucks led, 50-49, at the half and opened the third period with a 7 -0 run. The lead reached 65-53 on Malcolm Brogdon’s 3-pointer, but the Bulls went on a 17-6 run to pull within 71-70. The Bucks closed the period with an 8-1 run for a 79-71 lead entering the fourth.
Pushing the lead to 100-86, the Bucks seemed ready to close out the Bulls. Instead, three straight turnovers, then a few missed 3-pointers later, the Bulls had gone on an 11-0 run. Suddenly, it was 100-97 on Lauri Markkanen’s two free throws with 2:55 left.
Bledsoe put an end to that, drilling a 3-pointer with 2:37 left, igniting a 12-0 run. Bledsoe and Brogdon each hit a pair of free throws, Bledsoe dropped in another three, and Brook Lopez drove for a slam to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Zach Lavine led the (13-44) with 27 points, and Markkanen added 20 points and 17 rebounds.
After their brutally cold start, the Bucks finished the night at 47.5% (38 for 80) and 12 for 38 (31.6%).