In his return from Covid protocols, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points to lead the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks to a 117-113 Christmas comeback victory over the coronavirus-depleted Boston Celtics.
Antetokounmpo, who had been out for five games, scored 29 points in the second half to lead the Bucks to victory over a brave Celtics team that had nine players out due to Covid-19 concerns, and ten if you count Al Horford, who cleared protocols but was deemed ineligible to play.
The Celtics attacked the NBA champions early, with the minimum required eight players in uniform — after German guard Dennis Schroder was ruled out earlier Saturday due to Covid concerns.
They jumped out to a 35-22 first-quarter lead thanks to 14 points from Jaylen Brown.
Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart combined for 69 points for the Celtics, who led by as many as 19 points at one point and had a 13-point lead with 5:28 left.
With 1:29 remaining, Antetokounmpo’s layup tied the game at 111-111.
Brown hit two free throws to put Boston back in front, but Milwaukee’s Wesley Matthews hit a three-pointer with 30.3 seconds left to give the Bucks their first lead of the game.
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton made three free throws to give Milwaukee the lead.
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With seven-tenths of a second left, Brown missed a three-pointer, and Antetokounmpo grabbed the rebound to seal the victory.
– A Knicks first – The five-day Christmas Day slate began at Madison Square Garden, where Kemba Walker continued his comeback by becoming the first New York Knicks player to record a triple-double on the holiday, leading the Knicks to a 101-87 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Walker has poured it on in his return to the lineup after being benched for nine games by coach Tom Thibodeau earlier this month.
He had 44 points in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, but his 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists in the first game of the NBA’s five-game Christmas Day slate on Saturday made an impact.
“This is up there,” Walker said after grabbing his 10th rebound in the second half to earn his first triple-double since 2014.
“This is only my second Christmas Day performance. But it was a very special Christmas, and it was a very special moment to be playing at home in New York, with the crowd going crazy.
The Knicks led by as many as 21 points in the wire-to-wire victory, with Julius Randle scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
On Christmas Day, Walker became the seventh NBA player to record a triple-double. Oscar Robertson did it four times in the 1960s, and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors did it most recently in 2017.
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“All I wanted to do was come out here and win,” Walker said.
For the Hawks, who were without eight players due to Covid-19 concerns, including star Trae Young, John Collins and Delon Wright each scored 20 points.
Other games on the schedule included a matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, which pitted the league’s top two teams against each other.
It’s only the sixth time the NBA’s top two teams have met on Christmas Day.
The two Western Conference pacesetters have already met twice in less than a month, with the Suns winning in Phoenix and Golden State snapping the Suns’ 18-game winning streak in San Francisco.
The Suns hope to build on their slim conference lead and extend their 15-game home winning streak.
Deandre Ayton of Phoenix said, “This is our game to settle it.” “It’s going to be fantastic.”
Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge are among the seven Covid absentees for the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets later Saturday. The Utah Jazz took on the Dallas Mavericks in the nightcap.