Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a season-high 49 points in his return from an injury as the Milwaukee Bucks overcame Kevin Durant’s 42-point performance to beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-114 on Sunday.
Two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo, who had been dealing with a sprained right ankle, outdueled Durant in the Eastern Conference clash between the two highest-scoring teams in the league.
Antetokounmpo finished just three points short of his career high, which he set two years ago against Philadelphia.
“Tonight that picture I created, that’s who I want to be moving forward,” said Antetokounmpo. “It doesn’t matter if I score 49 points. I don’t care about that.
“What I care about is how I slowed down, how I was able to find my teammates. How if I missed one, missed a second one, missed a third one and still be able to come down and shoot another one. This is what I believe I can be.”
Antetokounmpo shot 21-of-36 from the floor and added eight rebounds while teammate Khris Middleton finished with a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Durant equaled a season-high 42 and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets, who are trying to hang onto first place during the final stretch of the regular season.
Antetokounmpo said he didn’t want to get into a scoring duel with Durant and just tried to focus on the strengths in his game.
“KD is one of the greatest scorers ever to play the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “If you try to go back and forth with him, he’s going to score 70. I was able to slow down and get to my spots. I kept being aggressive.”
The two teams play again on Tuesday night in Milwaukee in a rivalry many see as a playoff preview.
Kyrie Irving scored 20 points and Landry Shamet tallied 17 for the Nets, who have won four of their past six games.
Elsewhere, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry combined for 76 points as the Toronto Raptors kept their playoff hopes alive with a 121-114 win over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, who saw superstar LeBron James exit in the fourth quarter.
Siakam finished with a season high 39 points and 13 rebounds and Lowry delivered 37 points and 11 assists in a Sunday showdown between the two last teams to win NBA championships.
The Lakers have lost six of their last seven and are learning that the insertion of James back into the lineup isn’t going to be a cure-all.
James shot six-of-11 from the floor and finished with 19 points in 28 minutes but the 36 year old also had five turnovers in just his second game back after missing 20 with a right ankle injury he suffered on March 20.
James left Sunday’s game halfway through the fourth quarter and did not return.
“He was battling some soreness,” said Laker coach Frank Vogel. “We decided not to bring him back. We will see how he’s feeling tomorrow.”
The win leaves the Raptors two and a half games behind Washington in the battle for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. The seventh through 10 seeds qualify for the postseason play-in round.
Also, Boston Celtic starters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum did not finish their 129-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers after they collided into each other in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
The collision happened while they were defending a Trail Blazers inbound pass. They both hobbled off to the dressing room with the game out of reach. Tatum said later that his injury was not serious.
In San Antonio, Ben Simmons made a game-winning tip-in at the buzzer and Joel Embiid scored 34 points and seized 12 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 113-111 in the Alamo City.