In a battle between the top two teams in the league, it’s only fitting that it went right down to the wire.
In the end, though, it was the Los Angeles Lakers who came out on top over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers, after falling into an early hole, used a big third-quarter run and a dominant outing from LeBron James to get past the Bucks 113-103 at the Staples Center on Friday night, their 10th win in 11 games.
Lakers take off after tight start
Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks get off to a hot start early, grabbing a nine-point lead after he put up 10 of his 12 first-half points in the opening quarter. The Lakers, though, fought back to tie things up 48-48 by halftime after Kyle Kuzma drilled a 3-pointer in the final seconds before the break. The Lakers struggled from long range in the opening half, too, shooting just 3-of-21 from behind the arc.
It didn’t take long for the Lakers to take off in the third quarter.
They mounted a massive 18-0 run over a three-minute stretch to grab a 13-point lead midway through the period, easily working through the Bucks defense. They put up 39 points as a team, too, while shooting 14-of-23 from the field and pushed their lead to 15 at its peak behind 14 points from James alone.
The Bucks, though, slowly fought back into it.
After cutting it to just 11 points by the end of the third, Khris Middleton brought them within four points after hitting a huge 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter. Their offense, however, went stagnant in the final minutes. Milwaukee made just two field goals in the final 2:33 of the game while the Lakers pushed ahead to grab the 10-point win.
Natural MVP comparisons
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 32 points and 12 rebounds. Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench.
James finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while shooting 12-of-21 from the field. Anthony Davis finished with 30 points and nine rebounds.
Naturally, with James and Antetokounmpo putting up very similar stat lines in their first head-to-head matchup of the year, many quickly jumped to the MVP race — where both are leading the field.
James has averaged 25.4 points and a league-high 10.7 assists this season while Antetokounmpo has averaged 29.6 points and 13.8 rebounds.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel, though, wanted nothing to do with it — and doesn’t think James does, either.
“LeBron definitely got the upper-hand in tonight’s matchup, but it’s one game out of 82,” Vogel said, via USA Today’s Mark Medina. “I think LeBron would tell you himself that [the MVP race is] not anything that really motivates him. It was about beating the Bucks tonight. I’ll let the fans or you nice people talk about MVP comparisons.”
Frank Vogel on the LeBron-Giannis matchup pic.twitter.com/5cFZutPeZo— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 7, 2020
He was also extremely proud of how James handled playing against Antetokounmpo.
“What was more impressive to me was his defense on Giannis,” Vogel said, via SBNation’s Harrison Faigen. “Starting in the first half when AD was in foul trouble, we needed someone to step up. For him to take on that assignment and still do what he did offensively is just an incredibly remarkable two-way performance ... He’s a basketball savant.”
Lakers clinch first playoff appearance since 2013
The Lakers officially clinched a playoff berth with the win on Friday night, their first since 2013.
They are in the midst of a tough stretch, too, and will take on the Clippers on Sunday before hosting the Nets, Rockets and Nuggets next week.
James, however, isn’t focused on his crosstown rival just yet.
“Right now I’m extremely tired,” James said. “I’m going to get some rest tonight. Get a good dinner, get a glass of wine, maybe two, then I’ll lock in on the Clippers tomorrow. It’s a good start to our weekend.”
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