Giannis shines in Bucks’ 119-112 victory over Celtics

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on his way to scoring 36 points past Boston Celtics’ Enes Kanter (11), Semi Ojeleye (37) and Marcus Smart (36) in their NBA game Friday. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 02 August 2020

Giannis shines in Bucks’ 119-112 victory over Celtics

LOS ANGELES: Giannis Antetokounmpo shook off the rust of a long layoff by scoring 36 points to power the Milwaukee Bucks to a 119-112 victory over the Boston Celtics in their first game of the NBA’s restarted season.
Milwaukee, who are trying to win their first NBA title since 1971, boasted the best record at 53-12 when the league was shut down in mid-March due to the global pandemic.
“We just got the stops. We tried to play hard, make the right play and hit open guy,” said Antetokounmpo.
In the late game, James Harden scored 49 points and the Houston Rockets outgunned the Dallas Mavericks 153-149 in a high-scoring Western Conference contest that went into overtime. The Bucks trailed by two points at the half, then built a big lead and held on in the fourth quarter to beat the Celtics in the battle between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses.
The 25-year-old Antetokounmpo also had 15 rebounds, seven assists and five fouls. He almost fouled out with 88 seconds to go but after a video review the officials overturned a sixth foul call, allowing him to stay in the game and lead the Bucks to victory.
Khris Middleton scored 18 points and added eight assists, while Brook Lopez tallied 14 points and made six blocks for the Bucks, who came into the game holding a 6 1/2 game lead over second place Toronto.
Both teams did a good job of acclimating themselves to their new surroundings, which includes playing without fans at the Disney World complex that is acting as the “bubble” venue for the 22 teams taking part in the restart. Antetokounmpo remains on track to become the NBA’s first back-to-back MVP since Stephen Curry in 2015-16. Heading into Friday’s game he was averaging a robust 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season.
It was his 19th straight double-double matching the longest streak in the league this season which also belongs to him.
Celtics Daniel Theis tied the game 107-107 with just over two minutes to go.
But Antetokounmpo converted a three-point play less than a minute later and Middleton added a three-point bomb to give Milwaukee an eight-point lead with a minute to go as the Bucks took control in the final minutes.  Jaylen Brown finished with a team high 22 points and Kemba Walker scored 16 points in just 19 minutes of playing time in the loss. Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who entered the contest averaging a team-leading 23.6 points per game, finished with five points on just two-of-18 shooting.
Marcus Smart, who was on the wrong end of the video review of Antetokounmpo’s rescinded sixth foul, accused the refs of playing favorites.
In the late game, Harden scored 23 of his game high 49 points in the first quarter and Russell Westbrook chipped in 31 points for Houston after arriving late to Orlando because he tested positive for the coronavirus. “It was tough to be home for 18, 19 days no working out,” said Westbrook.
Kristaps Porzingis had 39 points and 16 rebounds for Dallas, and Luka Doncic had a triple-double with 28 points 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

 


A spot in Al-Taawoun club history is just the start for Mitch Duke

Updated 27 October 2020

A spot in Al-Taawoun club history is just the start for Mitch Duke

  • After earning his new club its first-ever spot in the AFC Champion’s League knockout stages, Mitch Duke is looking forward the rest of the season

LONDON: Mitch Duke has only been in Saudi Arabia since August but has already made history. His new club, Al-Taawoun, needed a win against Qatari side Al-Duhail in the final game of the AFC Champions League group stage last month to progress to the knockout phase for the first time ever — and the Australian striker headed home the only goal of the game with four minutes remaining.

It was not only a clear illustration of the 29-year-old’s ability, but the fact that he still managed to have such a decisive effect on the game despite sporting a heavily-bandaged head after an earlier clash revealed a never-say-die spirit that will serve his new team well.

“It was a good way to announce myself, and to play in the AFC Champions League was awesome, especially to play in the western zone for the first time,” said Duke. “We went into that tournament on the back of seven losses in a row and we did well to get to the final 16 for the first time in our history.”

Such fighting spirit was also in evidence last week during the second round of games in the new Saudi Pro League season. During their clash with 2019 champions and 2020 runners-up Al-Nassr, Al-Taawoun midfielder Ryan Al-Mousa was sent off after just 10 minutes. Despite this, they emerged with a 1-0 victory against one of the main title contenders.

“To get a result against Al-Nassr with 10 men from 10 minutes is massive and shows what we are capable of,” said Duke.

It was a very welcome victory for a team that finished third in 2019 but found themselves battling relegation last season, eventually finishing in 12th place, just three points clear of the drop zone.

“(Last season) was a stressful time, with COVID, and they were going downhill,” said Duke. “I was here for the last few games but I couldn’t play so I had to sit in the stands and hope they didn’t lose so I wouldn’t be playing in the second division.”

It remains to be seen how Al-Taawoun will fare in the new campaign. Going from near bottom to the top of the league in a single season is a big ask but there is no shortage of ambition at the club.

“There is always an outside chance of the title but with the big three teams and the investment they have made in their squads, it is going to be difficult,” said Duke. “Qualifying for the AFC Champions League is a realistic target.”

Duke, who spent four years playing in Japan with Shimizu S-Pulse, from 2015 to 2018, moved to Saudi Arabia from Western Sydney Wanderers. Not only was he the top striker at his hometown club (who were, as Al-Hilal fans will remember, the 2014 AFC Champions League winners) but also the captain, so his departure was much lamented at home. He is in no doubt, however, that he made the right choice.

“There were a few factors involved in the decision to move,” he said. “There is the financial side of things, as well as making sure that the football is decent. I think Saudi Arabia is the second-best league in Asia, after Japan.

“It is a great test for me, and there are seven foreigners in every team and they bring in some very good players. There is some real quality in the league and they invest in it.”

The growing number of Australian players in the league also makes a difference. They include some big names, such as Rhys Williams at Al-Qadisiyah, Brad Jones at Al-Nassr, Craig Goodwin at Abha and Al-Wehda’s Dmitri Petratos. As a result, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold is well aware of what is happening in the league, which could boost Duke’s chance of an international call-up when 2022 World Cup qualifiers resume next year.

“I hope that is the case,” said Duke. “The best thing is to keep playing well for Al-Taawoun and then we will wait and see what happens. As a forward here, I am playing against quality defenders and vice versa. There are also plenty of Saudi national team players in the league, which means that the level is good.”

The lifestyle in a new city and country is taking a little getting used to, he admitted. It has been quite a change and Duke, whose pregnant wife and young son are still living in Australia, is learning to deal with having plenty of free time on his hands, especially as training and games take place in the evenings. He sees this time as a valuable opportunity, however, and is determined make good use of it.

“I have decided to do some studies and prepare for a life after football, do some coaching licenses.” he said. “I have plenty of time on my hands and, mentally, you can go into a bit of a hole with being away from the family and that can creep into your football, so I am to start studying. There is no excuse. I want to use my time here to improve.”

He has already shown that during his time in Saudi Arabia he can also help Al-Taawoun to do the same.