Bucks beat Rockets 117-111 in season opener

Milwaukee Bucks (Getty Images)

HOUSTON — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points and had a triple-double before fouling out and his supporting cast held on to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 117-111 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, Oct. 24 in a star-studded opener featuring the last three MVPs.

Antetokounmpo, the MVP last season, fouled out with about five minutes remaining. He had 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

Brook Lopez made two free throws with about a minute left before a layup by Russell Westbrook. But Lopez made a fadeaway shot to leave Milwaukee up 115-109 with 39 seconds remaining. James Harden added a pair of free throws before Ersan Ilyasova made a jump shot with about 15 seconds to go that sent many fans heading to the exits.

Some had wondered what would happen with the pairing of the two ball-dominant guards in Harden and Westbrook after the 2017 MVP was traded from Oklahoma City for Chris Paul this summer. In their first game together with the Rockets, both filled up the stat sheet, but they were unable to come away with a win after leading for much of the game.

Westbrook had 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists, Harden, the 2018 MVP, added 19 points, 14 assists, and seven rebounds. He was 2 of 13 from the field, 1 of 8 on 3s and made 14 free throws without a miss.

The Bucks led by six when Antetokounmpo fouled out. He walked to coach Mike Budenholzer and implored him to challenge the call, but he’d already used his one challenge per game that coaches get this season and couldn’t do anything to help his superstar.

Houston scored the next five points, with the last four from Westbrook to cut the lead to 101-100. But Khris Middleton hit a 3-pointer with 3 1/2 minutes left to stretch Milwaukee’s lead.

The Bucks were up by six with about two minutes left before P.J. Tucker knocked a 3 from the corner. But Wesley Matthews added a 3-pointer for Milwaukee seconds after that to push the lead to 111-105.

Milwaukee opened the fourth quarter with a 13-3 run to make it 91-90 and take its first lead of the night. Antetokounmpo led the way in the stretch, scoring eight points. The Rockets missed several shots and had a turnover before they finally got back on track.

There were about eight minutes left when Harden found Westbrook connected on two straight plays. On the first one, Harden dished to Westbrook and he was fouled on a layup to get a 3-point play. The next time down the court Harden sent a bounce pass to Westbrook in the lane and he finished with a two-handed dunk that put Houston up 95-91 and brought a huge ovation from the crowd.

But the Bucks made the next 10 points, led by five from Brook Lopez, who capped the run with a 3-pointer to make it 101-95 with about 5 1/2 minutes left.

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