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Antetokounmpo scores 49, plays strong defense, leads Bucks past Nets

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 49 points, Khris Middleton had 26 points and 11 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks edged Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets 117-114 on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. He went 21 for 36 from the field, helping Milwaukee overcome a terrific performance by Durant.

The Bucks (40-24) won for the third time in four games to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Nets (43-22) in the three-way battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia is on top at 42-21 heading into its matchup with San Antonio on Sunday night.

Milwaukee hosts Brooklyn again on Tuesday night.

Durant had 42 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets, but he missed a difficult fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer. Kyrie Irving scored 20 points, and Landry Shamet finished with 17.

Antetokounmpo finished three points shy of his career high, set against Philadelphia in March 2019.

A slick move by Antetokounmpo gave the Bucks a 117-112 lead, and Irving answered with a layup. But Durant and Khris Middleton traded 3-point misses before the final attempt by Durant.

Jrue Holiday had 18 points for Milwaukee, and Bryn Forbes finished with 12.

Antetokounmpo scored the Bucks’ first 16 points of the third quarter, and his personal streak stopped when he passed to Forbes for a 3-pointer. He had 18 points in the third, and the game was tied at 90 heading to the fourth.

Durant lifted the Nets with 13 points in the quarter, including three 3-pointers.

Coach Steve Nash said the two-game series against the Bucks is “a great rehearsal” for a possible playoff matchup. Nash said he didn’t think the Nets would be keeping any secrets in the two games. “We’re still growing,” Nash said. “We’re still learning. We’re trying to get there, let alone start hiding things.”

Antetokounmpo was cleared to play and started after spraining his right ankle in the opening minute of the Bucks’ loss at Houston on Thursday. He missed the Bucks’ 108-98 win in Chicago on Friday.

“They’ve put him through quite a bit of testing and work,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Giannis is very familiar with his body and these type of injuries. At some point you pass the test, you feel good, you go.”