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Jabari Parker was impressive in his season debut for the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, collecting 12 points in just shy of 15 minutes. He looked confident both in his skills and his left knee while doing so, attacking the paint regularly for either buckets or fouls.
Fans cheered his return, applauded his first action — a foul — and he gave them plenty to enjoy in his short first stint coming off his second left ACL rehab.
“It felt great, but honestly I’m training myself to think about it as just getting better,” Parker said. “It’s not going to take just one game, a few games, it’s a whole process.”
But having reached his minutes limit, there was nothing he could do to help his teammates in the fourth quarter. With the game tied entering that period, they were going to have to find a way to beat the New York Knicks on their own.
It wasn’t a pretty game for either side, as the Bucks got crushed on the glass and the Knicks struggled to find a consistent stroke from three-point range and take care of the ball. But Giannis Antetokounmpo sent the sellout crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center home happy with a last-second layup to give the Bucks a 92-90 victory.
“It was a tough game,” Khris Middleton said. “It was ugly pretty much from start to finish. Giannis made a big, big play — he was huge for us down the stretch. … Without him, we don’t win this game, but guys did a great job of fighting.”
With just over 40 seconds remaining and the game tied, the Knicks went to Enes Kanter, who dominated inside all night with 17 points and 18 rebounds, hoping he could give them the lead. Catching in the paint late in the shot clock, Kanter was enveloped by Antetokounmpo and center John Henson, with his shot coming up short.
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Antetokounmpo snagged the rebound and kept control of it until late in the shot clock before making his move. It was a plan that interim head coach Joe Prunty had instilled during a Knicks timeout, spreading the court for his best player to run a pick-and-roll and decide what to do with it from there.
John Henson set a pick near the top of the key, which caused Kristaps Porzingis to switch off of Antetokounmpo and Kanter moves onto him. Antetokounmpo then drove to his left then spun toward the hoop, slipping in a left-handed layup past Kanter with 1.9 seconds on the clock.
That basket put him at 29 points on the night to go with 11 rebounds, but it didn’t seal the win.
Tim Hardaway Jr. got a solid look at the basket from 29 feet out on the ensuing possession, hesitating on his release for a moment as Middleton swiped over his head, before launching his shot. It bounced harmlessly away from the basket, sending the nervous crowd into a celebratory frenzy.
The day, which began with anxiety surrounding the team’s bevy of injuries — Malcolm Brogdon was diagnosed with a partial left quadriceps tear, Eric Bledsoe had missed Thursday’s game due to left ankle soreness while Antetokounmpo had tweaked his left ankle during that contest — ended in the most positive way possible for Milwaukee.
Parker scored all 12 of his points in the first half while looking like his usual bouncy, fearless self.
“I thought he had a very good debut,” Prunty said. “I thought there were a lot of positive things that he did out on the floor. … I thought defensively he was solid, was in the right spots.”
For Parker, who wore sneakers with writing virtually all over them, including the words, “NEVA LEFT” on the left toe, he enjoyed the chance to be back in the flow with his teammates. He made his first shot of the night — a baseline jumper over Kanter – and showed his athleticism with numerous high-flying drives, including a dunk attempt over Kyle O’Quinn that didn’t connect because of a foul.
“Only way to go here is go on up,” Parker said. “Can’t be below any point that I’ve been in any stages of these few months. Anything that I do from this point on is just to go up and it’s a blessing.”
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Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe were both able to play, with Antetokounmpo making big plays when it mattered while Bledsoe was hampered by foul trouble and fouled out after just 20 minutes. Matthew Dellavedova filled in well for Bledsoe, with the team plus-12 points in his 27 1/2 minutes.
“Outstanding,” Prunty said of Dellavedova. “He was great in a lot of ways, just in terms of running the team, doing all the little things he does. … I thought his looks were good, they were the right shots, the right plays. Defensively, he did a few things off the ball on the weak side that, again, aren’t going to show up on the stat sheet, but I thought he was very, very good tonight.”
And most importantly, the Bucks secured the win heading into a four-game road trip.
“No, it definitely doesn’t,” Middleton said when asked if it gets better than a win in Parker’s debut. “Just great to have Jabari back, especially the way he played tonight. More importantly, we got the win. It’s a great night all around.”
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (28-23) at Brooklyn Nets (19-34).
When: 11 a.m. Sunday.
Where: Barclays Center.
About the Nets: Brooklyn enters Sunday’s matinee with losses in five of its past six games, including a 102-99 defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. The Bucks have been involved in that stretch, beating the Nets, 116-91, in the first meeting between the teams Jan. 26 at the Bradley Center.