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Connaughton brings needed energy as Bucks rally past Hornets

Pat Connaughton didn’t score. He collected two rebounds and one assist in 12 minutes.

And yet he may have been the leading reason the Milwaukee Bucks pulled out their sixth straight victory.

Connaughton brought an energy the Bucks were seriously lacking in the first three quarters and led a defensive effort that pushed his team to a 108-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets Friday night at Fiserv Forum.

Despite his tiny statistical impact, Connaughton finished a team-best plus-18.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Malcolm Brogdon added 19 points and Eric Bledsoe posted 18 points. The three of them combined for 21 of the Bucks’ final 24 points, with Khris Middleton’s 3-pointer accounting for the other three to give him 15 on the night.

The Bucks (35-12) outscored the Hornets, 32-12, in the final period, and the rousing victory moved them a full game ahead of the Toronto Raptors (36-15) for the best record in the NBA.

Milwaukee also improved to 6-0 in rematch games against teams that have beaten them previously this season.

For 36 minutes, Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton seemed to be running in quicksand. They trailed, 87-76, entering the fourth quarter and showed little evidence they might shake off the cobwebs.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer tried anything and everything, but his team played disjointed basketball no matter who was on the floor. With 30 seconds left in the third, he turned to Connaughton.

The rally didn’t start immediately — the Hornets still led, 92-90, on a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist free throw with 9:45 left — but the energy started to build.

Antetokounmpo scored on a lob dunk. Then he earned two free throws. And, finally, Brogdon — who had more than enough trouble with shots from 2 feet away, hit a 3-pointer. The Bucks, who were 4 for 26 on threes prior to that, were within 92-87,

And the rally didn’t stop there. With Connaughton on the floor, Budenholzer had Antetokounmpo playing center and the Bucks defense switching everything. Suddenly, the Hornets could no longer get to the basket as Connaughton, Bledsoe and Brogdon pressured the ball with energy and upset the Charlotte offense.

Antetokounmpo made a driving layup. Brogdon scored down the lane on a fast break. The 11-0 run didn’t get the Bucks back to even, but it definitely put them right back into the game.

Marvin Williams’ jumper slowed the run, but driving baskets by Antetokounmpo and Brogdon finally got the Bucks over the top for a 95-94 lead with 5:34 left.

Kemba Walker’s tip-in briefly put Charlotte back on top, but Antetokounmpo’s dunk and Bledsoe’s driving layup put the Bucks up for good at 99-96 with 4:24 left. Middleton’s 3-pointer made the run 22-4 and the lead 102-96.

When it was over, the Hornets had scored just seven points over the final 9:44. Antetokounmpo outscored the Hornets, 14-12, in the quarter.

Nicolas Batum led Charlotte (23-25) with 19 points, and Jeremy Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 each.

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