The MVP candidates were all on hand in Milwaukee, though it was the reigning MVP who made the loudest statement of all, leading his Milwaukee Bucks to an impressive 111-104 win over LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bucks now move to 25-4 on the season, while the Lakers drop to 24-5.
On a night that captured the attention of the entire NBA world, let's take a look at some of the key takeaways from what could indeed be an early NBA Finals preview.
The MVP is in Antetokounmpo's hands
If the news had yet to surface that Antetokounmpo was morphing into a genuine three-point shooter, it certainly has now.
Finishing with 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, it was a remarkable yet standard line for a player piecing together one of the more dominant regular seasons in history.
Antetokounmpo has now scored 25+ points on 50 percent shooting or greater in 13 straight games, tying Shaquille O'Neal (2000-01) for the longest streak since the merger.
While the performance was littered with the usual dunks, gyro-steps and alley-oop finishes, it was his deadly assault from beyond the arc that continuously kept the Lakers at bay.
The best of The Greek Freak:- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 20, 2019
34 PTS | 11 REB | 7 AST | 32 MIN. pic.twitter.com/zBTeHrnE7C
Antetokounmpo would finish with a career-high five three-point makes from his eight attempts, it what was a continuation of a steadily improving long range game.
In the 24 games Antetokounmpo has appeared in since the beginning of November, he has attempted 5.4 threes a night, shooting 47-for-131 on those attempts - 37.1%.
With the Lakers threatening to make a fourth-quarter rally, Antetokounmpo received the ball just beyond the three-point line with just over nine minutes left and the Bucks leading 95-84. Davis stood between Antetokounmpo and the basket.
OOP 👀#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/7NHjom2pYd- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 20, 2019
In years gone by, he would have tried to force his way to the paint, this time, that was never in his mind as he casually pulled up and buried his fifth three of the game. As the Lakers called time, Antetokounmpo celebrated by appearing to put a crown on his head.
It's only December, and it could be possibly a little early to be pulling out that celebration.
But he also could be right..is this just the tip of the iceberg?
Anthony Davis ankle appears just fine
The status of Davis' availability was unknown up until an hour before tip-off, with a right ankle sprain holding him out of the Lakers' loss to the Indiana Pacers two days earlier.
Despite the concern, Davis was declared healthy, and his performance would indicate the ankle was feeling pretty good.
Finishing with 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, Davis was consistently putting pressure on the Bucks excellent paint defence, forcing his way to the free-throw line at will. Davis would tally 14 of his points at the charity stripe from his 17 attempts.
How did AD finish this? 😱- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 20, 2019
Lakers cut the deficit to single digits at the end of the 3rd QTR 👀 pic.twitter.com/brnQK9j9AR
With Antetokounmpo forced to the bench with four fouls early in the third quarter, Davis appeared to find another gear, relentlessly penetrating off the dribble and drawing the whistle, much to the frustration of the Bucks' coach Mike Budenholzer and the vocal home crowd.
Antetokounmpo would return with 44.4 seconds left in the period, though in the stretch he sat, Davis scored nine points, all of them coming in the paint and five from the free-throw line.
It goes without saying that the reigning MVP is critical to the Bucks' defensive scheme, and the stretch appeared to loosen up Davis, who had at times appeared frustrated in the early going.
All in all, Davis would score 24 points in the second half and gave the outside chance of a miraculous comeback that ultimately fell short.
The Bucks' role players stand up once again
In Milwaukee's blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this month, it was the Bucks bench mob that provided critical help to the starting lineup.
On this night, it was once again pivotal performances from role players that helped fit the pieces together in the game-winning puzzle as Milwaukee took the bench points count, 34-4.
Wesley Matthews has been assigned with some of the more difficult defensive tasks in the league this season and tonight was no exception, as he began the night guarding James. Matthews consistently put a body on James, forcing him into difficult shots or simply forcing the ball out of his hands.
The ability of Matthews to defend as such a high level at 33 years old has been a surprising development for Milwaukee, though his offence has not, as he continues to be a dangerous threat form the outside. Matthews finished with 13 points, including a deep momentum halting triple with 4:59 left in the game.
The Bucks are dialed in from distance! 🔥👌 pic.twitter.com/ngb17k04uz- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 20, 2019
Speaking of veterans, George Hill has been on a tear for Milwaukee this season, leading the league in three-point percentage at over 50 percent.
With Eric Bledsoe sidelined with a fibula injury, Hill was monumental, pouring in 21 points off the bench including 3-for-5 from deep.
The Bucks are deep and so far this season, that's been the difference in the big games. Budenholzer and the Bucks will be hoping that remains the case when it matters.
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