Giannis, Middleton hit late 3s as Bucks hold off Knicks
MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton is finding plenty of freedom and fun in the Milwaukee Bucks’ wide-open offense.
Middleton sank 7 of 8 3-pointers and finished with 30 points — including two critical 3s down the stretch — as the Bucks held off the New York Knicks 124-113 on Monday night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 15 rebounds and Eric Bledsoe added 16 points and 13 assists for the Bucks, who are 3-0 for the first time since 2005-06.
“There are so many interchangeable parts with the offense,” Middleton said. “Sharing the ball, moving the ball. The pace is crazy. But it’s been fun.
“There are so many opportunities and different looks we get out of the offense.”
Middleton’s 3-pointer with 2:22 left gave the Bucks a 116-110 lead, and he sank another off a pick-and-roll with Brook Lopez to make it 122-113.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he believes Middleton can be an elite 3-point shooter. The 6-foot-8 veteran is 15-for-23 (65 percent) from beyond the arc this season.
“We feel like he puts a lot of work and time into his craft,” Budenholzer said. “We’re going to create great opportunities for everybody, including Khris. And he’s done it before.”
Antetokounmpo only had one 3, but it came in a big spot, giving Milwaukee the lead for good midway through the fourth period. He scored 16 points in the final quarter while playing through contact in the paint.
“I just want to win,” Antetokounmpo said. “I tried to play harder, tried to get on my spots. It’s the third game of the season. New coach, new game plan.
“I’m just trying to figure it out. And I will. And when I do, it’s going to be so easy and I’m going to be a beast out there.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 24 points. Trey Burke added 19 and Mario Hezonja had 18.
New York outscored the Bucks 35-17 in the third quarter to pull within one point, led by Burke’s 13-point outburst in the period. But the Knicks were outscored 36-26 in the fourth.
“This is the suffering you must go through to become a good basketball team,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “The best part about it is our guys found a way to make it a basketball game.”
Middleton sank three consecutive 3-pointers to give the Bucks a 58-43 lead midway through the second quarter. He finished with 19 points in the half as Milwaukee rolled to a 71-52 lead.
The Bucks made 10 of 20 3-pointers in the half, with Middleton making all four of his attempts. Milwaukee finished 17 of 40 from distance, giving them 48 3s on the season, the most in franchise history over a three-game stretch.
“You’ve got to pick your poison with that group,” said Hardaway, who played under Budenholzer in Atlanta. “Not only can they shoot the ball, they’ve got guys that can get into the paint whenever they want against any team.
“Coach (Budenholzer) gives them that freedom. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Knicks: New York played without rookie forward Kevin Knox, who sprained his left ankle in a 103-101 loss at Boston on Saturday. … Fizdale said he isn’t ready to make a change in the starting lineup. Burke and Hardaway started in the backcourt, with Frank Ntilikina and Lance Thomas at forward and Enes Kanter at center. “We’re still going to make people work for it and earn it,” Fizdale said. “At the same time, I’m still looking at the next couple games. Then at some point, if I see a fit, I’m going to make a change.”
Bucks: Third-year center Thon Maker was active for the first time this season and D.J. Wilson and Christian Wood were inactive. Maker did not play. … Budenholzer said he likes his bench options, including rookie Donte DiVincenzo and veteran Ersan Ilyasova. “His defense always stands out to me,” the coach said of Ilyasova, who played under Budenholzer in Atlanta. “He can guard big 5s. Offensively he has a knack for playing and it marries up with how we want to play.” Ilyasova had 10 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes on Monday.
Knicks: At Miami on Wednesday night.
Bucks: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday night.