The team with the NBA’s best record wanted to show it can make a long playoff run, and the Detroit Pistons were helpless to slow them down.
“I don’t know if they were ready for us,” Antetokounmpo said. “But we just try to focus on ourselves. We just try to play with pace, run to our spots and try to make plays.”
Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 24 minutes, and the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 121-86 victory on Sunday night in the opener of their first-round playoff series.
Seven players scored in double figures for the Bucks, who led by as many as 43 points. Their 35-point margin was the third-largest in the franchise’s playoff history.
The Pistons only really caught up to Antetokounmpo when center Andre Drummond shoved him to the ground with both hands late in the third quarter, after the MVP candidate grabbed an offensive rebound with Detroit trailing by 41 points.
Drummond was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected. He blew a kiss to the Fiserv Forum crowd as he was escorted off the court.
“As a team we talked about it, to try to keep our composure whenever the opposing team tries to foul us hard or tries to hit us or play dirty,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, I’m not going to look to the referees for protection. I’ve just got to play smart and try to avoid the situations.”
Antetokounmpo was only 5 of 12 on free throws and 1 of 5 from 3-point range, but was 9 for 17 from the field.
Eric Bledsoe had 15 points, and Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton each added 14 for the Bucks. George Hill scored 16 points off the bench.
“We were all over the map defensively and didn’t get anything done,” coach Dwane Casey said of the Pistons, who allowed 70 first-half points and trailed by 27 at intermission. “We have another level we have to get to with our intensity and physicality, because they’re coming through there with balance, Euro-stepping, throwing elbows and stuff like this.
“We have to get our level of competitiveness up to start the game, because you can’t spot a great team like this that many points and expect to get back into it.”
Luke Kennard paced the Pistons with 21 points off the bench and Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Reggie Jackson also had 12 points. Detroit played without forward Blake Griffin, who sat out with a left knee injury.
Detroit shot 38% from the field and went 8 of 27 from 3-point distance (29.6.
“I think it was top-notch today,” Bledsoe said of the Bucks’ defensive performance. “Brook was protecting the paint all night. We were getting steals, playing our game and getting out in transition. We started early so that helped us out.”
The Bucks sank 15 3-pointers, just one shy of tying a playoff high, and compiled 31 assists on 44 made field goals.
Drummond got the defensive assignment on Antetokounmpo after Thon Maker got in early foul trouble trying to stop him.
“I have watched that kid since he got drafted so I know his game like the back of my hand,” Drummond said. “He is just going to put his head down and keep driving in there. (The plan) is to make him take tough shots, take charges when he does try to bulldog his way in, force him to take 3-point shots, and if we do foul him, foul him as hard as possible.”
GRIFFIN GETS A TECH
Griffin was issued a technical foul for protesting Drummond’s ejection. Casey said he understood what the referees were doing to keep control of the game but thought a flagrant 1 foul would have been more appropriate.
“I think it was a flagrant but I don’t think Andre deserved to be out the rest of the game,” Griffin said. “At least that is my opinion in real time.”
Casey said he thought Griffin did not deserve a technical.
“What I didn’t understand was an official coming over and having a conversation with a player that’s not even playing and giving him a technical,” Casey said. “It’s a hot situation. Walk to the other side of the floor instead of having a conversation.”
Griffin said it was frustrating having to watch Game 1 from the sideline.
“I never like to feel like I’m leaving my guys out there,” Griffin said. “But I have to do what our organization, our training staff, our doctors think is best, and that is the bottom line.”
Detroit: Maker faced his former team and started in Griffin’s place. He avoided a flagrant foul when he brought Antetokounmpo to the floor in the second quarter. The referees reviewed the play but stayed with their original call of a common foul. Maker had four points and four rebounds in 22 minutes and was booed heavily by the home crowd. “Thon is my little brother,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve known him since he came to the league. We’ve been friends. But I know he’s a competitor. I know he’s going to come out here and do whatever he can to help his team win. . Detroit entered with a 14-3 playoff record against Milwaukee, winning all four series.
Milwaukee: F Nikola Mirotic played 15 minutes while scoring four points on 2-of-8 shooting. “He’s just getting back in conditioning and health and everything like that,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. Mirotic had missed the last 11 regular-season games after fracturing his left thumb on March 19 against the Los Angeles Lakers. … The Bucks’ 70 points were the second-most in a first half in franchise playoff history. They scored 77 against Philadelphia in the Eastern Division semifinals in March 1970.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Milwaukee.