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Suns race past Giannis-less Bucks
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Suns race past Giannis-less Bucks

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PHOENIX — What shaped up as perhaps the most difficult trip of the Milwaukee Bucks’ season is certainly turning out that way.

The NBA-leading Bucks learned Sunday that forward Giannis Antetokounmpo wouldn’t play against Phoenix after sustaining a minor knee sprain late in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

The struggling Suns took full advantage of the reigning league MVP’s absence, winning 140-131 to saddle the Bucks (53-11) with their first two-game losing streak of the season.

Antetokounmpo’s health was of far more concern than the game’s outcome for Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, and the news on that front was positive.

“I think overall we’re very pleased,” Budenholzer told reporters before the game. “I think this was about as good an outcome and prognosis as we could hope for — I guess unless there was nothing (wrong).”

Antetokounmpo took a hard fall late in a 113-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. He remained in the game but appeared to be limping as he walked off the court afterward.

As a precaution, Antetokounmpo will also sit out Monday night’s game against the Northwest Division-leading Denver Nuggets before being assessed prior to Thursday’s home game against the Boston Celtics.

“He plays so hard and attacks the basket and he is in some tough situations, so we’ll miss him today and tomorrow and we’ll just see where it goes from there,” Budenholzer said.

Devin Booker scored 20 of his 36 points in Phoenix’s 47-point first quarter, going 7 of 8 from the field and 4-for-4 on 3-pointers to lead the Suns to a 47-28 lead after 12 minutes. He finished 13 of 17 from the field, 4 of 6 on 3s, made 6 of 7 free throws and had eight assists.

“Tough first quarter for us,’’ Budenholzer said. “Phoenix’s aggressiveness on both end of the court put them in a position where they could maintain a lead and take it home.”

Ricky Rubio had a triple-double for the Suns with 25 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds, becoming the first Suns player since Steve Nash on March 30, 2005, with at least a dozen points, assists and rebounds.

“It is an honor for me,’’ Rubio said of being in the same statistical realm of Nash, a player he has long admired.

Aron Baynes added 24 points for Phoenix, and Mikal Bridges had 21.

Khris Middleton scored 39 points for Milwaukee. Former Suns guard Eric Bledsoe had 28.

“It is hard to win three quarters and lose a game by nine,’’ Budenholzer said. “Still, it was a huge hole. They did a lot of things well.’’

After the Bucks cut their deficit to eight points, Baynes threw down a dunk, banked in a layup and nailed a 3-pointer. Milwaukee rallied to close with within six, 134-128, and the Suns finished it off at the free throw line.

“I just thought we executed; didn’t panic,’’ Suns coach Monty Williams said. “And that’s what you have to do against a team that maybe is the favorite to win a title.’’

Middleton finished 13-for-26 from the field, but hit just 3 of 10 attempts from 3-point range. He was 10-for-11 at the four line.

“It was a little bit disappointing, the way we first came out,” Middleton said. “It’s on that first group ... to come out with a better sense of urgency. But after that we competed, played as hard as we could and we made it a ballgame.

“If we came out like that at the beginning of the game, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

On the heels of Baynes’ unprecedented 9-of-14 3-point night against Portland, the Suns made eight of their first 10 and 9 of 14 overall to take a 19-point lead with their biggest quarter of the season.

“It’s the highest form of respect for me,’’ Booker said of the box-and-one defense the Bucks attempted. He credited his teammates with foiling it, as six Suns players scored in double figures.

“You could just tell right from the start of the game,’’ Booker added. “The energy, the aura around the locker room and the passion everyone showed. Even when we were up a lot, we are playing the right way, and when they make a run, we are playing the right way.’’

Bucks guard George Hill returned after a groin injury. He played 16 minutes and scored two points.

Milwaukee 28 31 32 40 — 131

Phoenix 47 30 25 38 — 140

MILWAUKEE — Ilyasova 0-0 0-0 0, Middleton 13-26 10-11 39, B.Lopez 8-14 1-1 18, Bledsoe 12-19 2-5 28, Matthews 2-5 0-0 5, Korver 3-4 0-0 9, Williams 1-3 2-2 5, R.Lopez 2-2 0-0 4, Connaughton 2-6 1-1 5, DiVincenzo 7-11 0-1 16, Hill 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 51-95 16-21 131.

PHOENIX — Bridges 7-13 5-5 21, Saric 3-7 2-4 11, Baynes 8-16 4-5 24, Booker 13-17 6-7 36, Rubio 8-15 6-6 25, Jerome 2-5 0-0 5, Diallo 2-4 2-2 6, Carter 4-8 2-2 12. Totals 47-85 27-31 140.

3-point goals — M 13-33 (Korver 3-4, Middleton 3-10, Bledsoe 2-4, DiVincenzo 2-5, Matthews 1-2, Williams 1-2, B.Lopez 1-4, Hill 0-2), P 19-43 (Booker 4-6, Baynes 4-11, Saric 3-4, Rubio 3-7, Bridges 2-6, Carter 2-6, Jerome 1-3). Rebounds — M 36 (DiVincenzo, Ilyasova 7), P 47 (Rubio 13). Assists — M 23 (Bledsoe 7), P 30 (Rubio 13). Total fouls — M 29, P 23. Att. — 17,282.


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