Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in a franchise record 64 points in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 140-126 win over the Indiana Pacers, but his performance was overshadowed by a row over the match ball.
At the end of the game, Antetokounmpo and several team-mates dashed off the court and into the locker rooms to retrieve the ball as a memento. Antetokounmpo later claimed it wasn’t even for him, he wanted it for Damian Lillard, who made his 2,451st career three-pointer to move past Kyle Korver and up to fifth on the all-time list.
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Indiana wanted it for Oscar Tshiebwe after he scored his first NBA point in the game.
It all amounted to an unseemly squabble which became physical with the Pacers claiming general manager Chad Buchanan was elbowed in the ribs.
“I understand. When you score your first point in the NBA, you want to have the ball or whatever the case may be,” Antetokounmpo said of the Pacers trying to claim it for Tshiebwe.
“But at the end of the day, you’re talking about the guy that just skipped Kyle Korver in the all-time list. In my opinion, we should all stop what we’re doing and appreciate greatness.”
A 64-piece of history. pic.twitter.com/4yVtURSJ2Z
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 14, 2023
Antetokounmpo did emerge with a ball, although he wasn’t sure which one. He also had no intention of giving it to Lillard.
“I have no idea. I’m not going to lie,” he added when asked if he had the match ball. “I really don’t know. I have a ball, but I don’t know if it’s the game ball. It doesn’t feel like the game ball to me. It feels like a brand-new ball. I can tell. I played, what, 35 minutes today. I know how the game ball felt. The ball that I have, which I’ll take and I’ll give it to my mom, for sure – but I don’t know if it’s actually the game ball.”
Indiana coach Rick Carlisle was unimpressed by the Bucks’ aggressive approach to the situation.
“We don’t need the official game ball,” he said. “There’s two game balls there; we could’ve taken the other one. But it didn’t need to escalate to that. Really just unfortunate.
“It’s the third game we played against these guys within two-and-half weeks, three weeks, so things are heated with the competition, and I understand all that. But for it to come into the hallway, it didn’t need to happen that way.”
The incident overshadowed a wonderful on-court display from Antetokounmpo, who broke the franchise record of 57 points set by Michael Redd in 2006.
“He’s an unstoppable player. You can’t guard him one-on-one,” said Bucks coach Adrian Griffin.
“You’ve got some really good guys surrounding him, but at the end of the day, it’s all him.
“His talent, his ability, his will. He has an incredible will to win, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win. What a great performance.”