NBA: Bucks begin title defence with victory over Nets; Warriors stun Lakers

·8 min read

Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks didn't let the celebration of the franchise's first NBA championship in half a century distract them as they opened their title defence.

In his first game since scoring 50 points in a title-clinching Game 6 NBA Finals victory over the Phoenix Suns, Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.

"We're part of history," Antetokounmpo said. "I'm excited. But now it's over with. We've got to focus on building good habits, keep moving forward and keep playing good basketball and hopefully we can repeat this again this year, next year and all the years that we're going to be here down the road."

Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton each added 20 points to help the Bucks withstand the loss of Jrue Holiday, who sat out the second half with a bruised right heel after scoring 12 points. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said MRI results on Holiday were encouraging.

Kevin Durant led the Nets with 32 points and 11 rebounds. Patty Mills scored 21 points and shot 7 of 7 from 3-point range. James Harden added 20 points.

"We weren't very good," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. "If you're not playing at a high level against the champs, you're not going to win."

The Nets were missing star guard Kyrie Irving, who isn't with the team due to his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

A New York mandate requires professional athletes on local teams to be vaccinated to practice or play in public venues. Rather than using Irving exclusively in road games, the Nets decided he wouldn't play or practice with them at all until he could be a full participant.

After receiving their rings, raising a banner and watching a highlight video of their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks defeated the team that nearly eliminated them in the second round of the playoffs. Antetokounmpo acknowledged that he teared up a little bit during the pre-game ceremony.

"When they were playing those videos, you cannot help yourself but get emotional," Antetokounmpo said. "Looking back to the journey, where we started from and where we are right now."

Milwaukee rallied from a 2-0 deficit and won Game 7 at Brooklyn in overtime after Durant's foot barely crept across the 3-point arc in the final seconds of regulation, turning a potential series-winning 3-pointer into a game-tying 2-point basket.

The Bucks went on a 21-4 run in the first quarter to extend a 10-8 advantage to 31-12. They got the lead back up to 19 again in the second quarter and were ahead 66-59 at halftime. The lead never dropped below seven the rest of the way.

Milwaukee outrebounded Brooklyn 54-44 and took 21 more shots than the Nets.

"We were climbing uphill all game," Durant said.

Milwaukee got 15 points from Jordan Nwora and 10 from Grayson Allen.

FANCY RINGS

Milwaukee's championship rings include the messages "Fear The Deer" and "Bucks In 6." The latter slogan has served as a rallying cry among fans ever since former Bucks guard Brandon Jennings used those words while incorrectly predicting the outcome of Milwaukee's 2013 first-round series with the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat.

Jennings and former Bucks guard Michael Redd were both in the crowd.

The rings, designed by Jason of Beverly Hills, have 360 diamonds on the top to represent the Bucks' total wins under current ownership. There are 16 emerald-shape diamonds on each side, symbolizing their 16 playoff wins last season and their 16 division titles in franchise history.

"My first thought as soon as it was handed to me is this is the biggest ring I've ever seen in life, and there's a lot of diamonds in it," Nwora said.

Herb Kohl, the 86-year-old former US senator who owned the Bucks from 1985-2014, also got a ring and received a standing ovation when he was announced.

Curry, Warriors stun James, Lakers 121-114 in opener

Los Angeles: Opening night in Hollywood went well for three quarters for Los Angeles Lakers superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

But it was a flop for their new supporting cast, including LA native and former league MVP Russell Westbrook.

Curry, a two-time MVP, had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Warriors, who rallied from 10 points down to stun the Lakers 121-114 in a season opener Tuesday night.

The Lakers went cold in the fourth quarter, and surrendered the lead halfway through the period.

James had 34 points and 11 rebounds, while Davis had 33 points and 11 rebounds. No other Lakers scored in double figures.

"Those two guys were spectacular," coach Frank Vogel said. "We're going to be pretty good if we get those type of performances.

We just have to be better defensively. This is a team that is all new to each other, so everybody's finding their way a little bit."

Wesbrook shot just 4 for 13 for eight points in his Lakers debut.

"Him more than anybody, it's going to be an adjustment period," Vogel said. "He's coming into our culture, our system, he's the new guy, he's got to find his way. It's difficult, when you're used to being the guy that has the ball most nights, to be able to play off others like LeBron and A.D. It's just a little bit different for him. He's going to be great for us but it's going to be an adjustment period."

James and Davis said they helped console Westbrook afterward.

"I told Russ to go home and watch a comedy," James said. "Put a smile on his face. Don't be so hard on himself."

The Lakers had an 84-74 lead late in the third quarter after a jumper by Kent Bazemore, but the Warriors slowly closed the gap.

"We didn't finish quarters well the whole night," Vogel said. "We gave up a 38-point fourth quarter. If you do that you're going to lose most nights. Our defense is just not on a string yet. I thought we did a good job being up on Steph, but the back side was much better in the first half than the second half."

Curry made three free throws in the closing seconds of the third quarter after he was fouled taking a 3-pointer, and Jordan Poole and Damion Lee hit 3-pointers early in the fourth.

Poole's layup with 9:17 left put the Warriors ahead for good at 91-90, and he finished with 20 points. The Warriors expanded the lead to 98-90 before the Lakers twice closed within two points.

But Curry and Nemanja Bjelica each hit 3-pointers to give the Warriors some breathing room. Bjelica had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Lee also scored 15 points.

"We kept our composure and didn't turn the ball over in the second half, which was a huge benefit to just maintaining the pace and giving ourselves some looks," Curry said. "But the fact that everybody who was on the floor contributed in a meaningful way kind of speaks to our depth and how we want to play going forward. We're excited about that and it's good to be 1-0."

Davis and James dominated for much of the game while welcoming a slew of new teammates, including Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan.

The Lakers, who won the NBA title in the bubble in October 2020, retooled after losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of last season's playoffs. They retained just three players €" James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker, who's out with a thumb injury.

James and Davis made 3-pointers and fallaway jumpers. In one remarkable sequence, James saved an errant pass and flicked it to Davis, who slammed it home for a 68-61 lead with 7:51 to go in the third quarter.

The Lakers, who went 0-6 in the preseason, led 59-53 at halftime.

Also See: NBA: Bucks defend title, Nets go without Irving, new support cast for LeBron as season begins

NBA Western Conference preview: LA Lakers may be the ones to catch

NBA Eastern Conference preview: Bucks have the title, 76ers, Nets have drama

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