The Los Angeles Lakers have garnered a lot of attention for their renewed defense anchored by Anthony Davis and orchestrated by head coach Frank Vogel.
But it was the Milwaukee Bucks defense that set the tone in Thursday’s heavyweight matchup of the NBA’s top two teams, making life hard for Lakers stars early in a 111-104 win.
The Lakers found their rhythm late, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a red-hot Milwaukee shooting night led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Defense early, offense late
The Bucks held the Lakers to 28.6 percent shooting in a season-low 17-point quarter for Los Angeles that they led by six.
They caught fire on offense in the second to take a 65-45 halftime lead, threatening to turn the potential NBA Finals preview between a pair of 24-4 teams into a blowout.
But the Lakers closed the gap, cutting their deficit to eight points in a 35-point third quarter that saw their offense find a rhythm as Antetokounmpo sat late with four fouls.
After the Bucks built the lead back up to 13, the Lakers threatened again late, cutting their deficit to as low as five points in the game’s final minute. But the Bucks never allowed them any closer, securing the win and the best record in the NBA.
Big night for Giannis
In a game featuring three MVP candidates, Antetokounmpo was the star, leading the Bucks with 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. He did so while featuring his revamped 3-pointer, hitting a career-high five on eight attempts.
After an MVP campaign where the only knock on his game was his distance shooting, Antetokounmpo continues to improve from behind the arc, where he’s shooting a career-high 32.1 percent. He’s doing so while more than doubling his career average of 1.9 with 5.1 attempts per game.
Imagine the nightmare of trying to guard Giannis rn pic.twitter.com/n4QHlLFMPH— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 20, 2019
Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Bucks player who got hot from distance on a night that Milwaukee shot 16-of-39 from behind the arc. George Hill came off the bench for 21 points that included 3-of-5 shooting from distance while four other Bucks players connected from behind the arc.
Strong game from hobbled AD
Anthony Davis was a worthy counter for Antetokounmpo, tallying 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while playing on a sprained right ankle that forced him to miss Tuesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers and had him labeled as a game-time decision on Thursday.
But unlike Antetokounmpo, he couldn’t connect from distance, missing all six of his attempts.
Another LeBron triple-double
LeBron James logged his sixth triple-double of the season with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists and played a big role in the Lakers cutting their deficit down the stretch.
The Lakers also salvaged a healthy 46.3 percent shooting night from the field after their abysmal first quarter.
It just wasn’t enough to rally from a 20-point halftime deficit on a night where Antetokounmpo put on a 3-point shooting display.
The Lakers and Bucks meet again in Los Angeles on March 6 in what will be their only other matchup unless they do tip off for the NBA title.
More from Yahoo Sports: