By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo opened the game with a one night-only move, hiking the ball through his legs to Eric Bledsoe after securing the opening tip.
The All-Star forward finished off the New York Knicks with some familiar plays in the lane, wheeling around defenders to get to the foul line.
Antetokounmpo scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, outmuscling the Knicks to help the Milwaukee Bucks hold on for a 120-112 win on Friday night.
Khris Middleton had a game-high 30 points for the Bucks, who got a head-start on their fourth-quarter surge when Antetokounmpo rejected Emmanuel Mudiay’s attempted layup before the third-quarter buzzer to preserve a 91-89 lead.
“I think one thing that is really important is to never underestimate or undervalue the things that he does,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said about Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks took control with a 19-7 run over a six-plus minute stretch of the fourth to build a 16-point lead that withstood a late run by the Knicks. Antetokounmpo had his way getting to the bucket, while Middleton provided balance from the perimeter after his 3 with 5:03 left gave Milwaukee a 112-96 advantage.
“We’ve got to be able to lock in even more now and finish the game — that’s what we did,” Antetokounmpo said.
New York, which finished a winless four-game road trip, has lost 14 of its last 15 games. Tim Hardaway Jr. finished with 26 points, while Mudlay scored all 19 of his points in the second half.
Still, the Knicks hardly looked like a draft lottery-bound team after rallying from an early 15-point deficit to take a brief lead in the third quarter. They held held edges in offensive rebounds (11-6) and second-chance points (14-5).
“They battled and never quit,” coach Jeff Hornaceck said.
Antetokounmpo swatted away their hopes of finishing a comeback.
The Bucks, who fell into eighth place in the East entering Friday after losing six of their last seven games, hope to gain ground again in the playoff race during a four-game stretch against 40-loss teams that started with the Knicks.
“We need every win at this point, so it was a good win no matter who it was,” Middleton said.
Antetokounmpo’s opening-tip move was an attempt to have some fun to help get over a tough stretch, trying to emulate the game-opening routine that Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook have in Oklahoma City. Eric Bledsoe got in on the act with Antetokounmpo by doing a pushup before bringing the ball up the floor.
“It was a half pushup but I don’t think we’re going to do it again, that’s it,” Antetokounmpo said slyly.
Prunty wasn’t as impressed.
“I didn’t like it. Didn’t like it,” he said.
Knicks: F Michael Beasley, who played for Milwaukee last year, finished with four points in 22 minutes. … F Troy Williams led all scorers in the first half with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He finished with 18 points.
Bucks: Improved to 18-7 against teams under .500. … Bledsoe had five points, seven assists, four steals and three turnovers in 14 minutes in an active first half. … Zeller had 12 points in 16 minutes in his return from a two-game absence because of back soreness.
Milwaukee was at its best early on when pushing the pace. Bledsoe had four assists in the first quarter and the Bucks were active in the backcourt to force five turnovers in the period.
The Knicks closed the first half with a 7-0 run to get within 60-55 after Hardaway Jr. hit a 3 over the outstretched arm of 7-footer Tyler Zeller just before the buzzer.
Hardaway liked the team’s energy.
“I think when we’re in these situations, when you start learning as the season winds down how we can build the leads once we have them and continue to fight and try to get three stops in a row,” he said.
“Now that they allow the Euro-step, that you can go from the top of the key or the halfcourt line to the basket without dribbling, it makes it tough to guard him because he’s good at it, and he’s got long strides.” — Hornacek on Antetokounmpo.
Knicks: Open five-game homestand Sunday by hosting the Toronto Raptors.
Bucks: Hit the road to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
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