About Last Night: Giannis wins head-to-head battle with Harden

In a matchup of Kia MVP contenders, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 20-20 performance bested James Harden’s 42-point outburst in the Bucks’ 116-109 victory over the Rockets.

Antetokounmpo was a physical presence on both ends of the floor, collecting 27 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, as Milwaukee battled back from a 60-54 halftime deficit to end the Rockets’ 10-game home winning streak.

Antetokounmpo also dished five assists, but the pass that had social media buzzing was one that knocked Harden to the floor.

Early in the fourth quarter, Antetokounmpo was backing down P.J. Tucker when he whipped the ball towards the corner, in the direction of Malcolm Brogdon. The missile struck Harden above his right temple; he needed a moment to compose himself.
 

What added insult to injury for Harden was the ball bounced back across the lane to Antetokounmpo, who dished to Ersan Ilyasova for a 3-pointer.

“I didn’t even know what happened,” Harden said. “I think the ball somehow came back into his hands … wish I would have seen it.”

Harden made history in the loss by recording his 14th straight 30-point game. Only Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant have had such streaks since the NBA-ABA merger.

  • 16 — Kobe Bryant                 2002-03
  • 14 — Tracy McGrady            2002-03
  • 14 — James Harden             Active
  • 13 — Moses Malone             1981-82
  • 12 — Kevin Durant               2013-14

Programming note: Bucks vs. Rockets re-airs Jan. 10 on NBA TV at 5:00 p.m. ET

Kuz control

Kyle Kuzma scored a career-high 41 points in just his second game returning from a lower back injury, even as he sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 113-100 victory over the Pistons.

That’s the most points by a Laker in fewer than 30 minutes played in the shot clock era (since 1954-55).

Kuzma also also became the fifth player this season to score 40 points in three quarters, joining Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Klay Thompson.

Kuzma posted 22 points in the third quarter, hitting four 3-pointers to get the crowd on its feet and scoring on consecutive goaltending calls. He left with 1 minute, 7 seconds to play and put a wrap around his midsection with a pack stuffed in the back.

Kyle Kuzma made 7-of-10 shots in the third quarter, including four 3-pointers.

Doncic makes Oubre look silly

A rallying call for defense made famous by Duke, the floor slap isn’t something usually seen in the NBA — or Europe. It’s possible Luka Doncic had never seen the gesture before. Regardless, Doncic responded to Kelly Oubre’s challenge with a fadeaway jumper right over him. Doncic finished with 30 points and the Mavs ended a seven-game losing streak against the Suns with a 104-94 victory.
 

The struggle is real

On a night when six of of the 16 teams in action were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the better rested teams held a big advantage.

Five of the six teams were handed double-digit losses, including the Cavs, Hawks, Pacers, Sixers and Suns. The only team playing on consecutive nights that won was the Wizards, who played a home-and-home series with Philadelphia (which has lost six of its eight games this season in the second game of back-to-back sets).

The Pacers’ 135-108 loss to the Celtics was the most glaring, as Boston posted its highest-scoring game this season against one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.

“It just looked like we were gassed tonight,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said.

Davis stuffs stat sheet again

Anthony Davis had another huge game in the Pelicans’ 140-124 victory over the Cavs, collecting 38 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks (two of which came within two seconds of each other).
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The ecstasy and the agony

One night after receiving a standing ovation in Toronto, Vince Carter got a similar reception in Brooklyn, complete with a video tribute. Carter, who played five seasons for the Nets, ranks third in franchise history in scoring average (23.6) and 3-pointers made (638).

However, the lovefest ended in the second quarter when Rodions Kurucs inadvertently elbowed Carter in the face. Kurucs went to check up on him, but Carter smacked his hand away.
 

Stat of the night

Blake Griffin failed to grab a rebound for the first time in his career (567 games), finishing with 16 points, six assists and four turnovers in 37 minutes.

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