The Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks have overcome relatively slow starts by pushing down on the gas pedal of late.
Winners in nine of their past 11 games, the Bucks will host the Knicks in an NBA in-season tournament quarterfinal clash on Tuesday.
New York opened the inaugural tournament with a 110-105 setback in Milwaukee on Nov. 3, but has since won 10 of its past 13 games.
The winner of Tuesday’s contest advances to the semifinals on Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“It would be pretty cool to be part of history,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, of potentially capturing the first NBA Cup.
“You always want to be the first to win something. So, it would definitely be cool to win the first in-season tournament. We still got some work to do, but we’re excited about it, about the opportunity.”
Damian Lillard scored 30 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 to go along with eight rebounds and six assists in the Bucks’ first meeting with the Knicks.
Antetokounmpo recorded his first triple-double of the season and 36th overall Saturday to pace Milwaukee to a 132-121 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
The two-time NBA MVP collected 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to fuel the Bucks to their seventh straight win at home and avenge their lone loss at home this season.
Lillard contributed 25 points and nine assists for Milwaukee, which benefited from a game-ending 18-7 run.
“I think sometimes, this group especially, I just think we have an understanding of how to win games when it comes down to it,” Lillard said. “It’s a matter of executing and getting stops and getting rebounds and being on the same page. And I think in those moments everything that you need to do well, we start to do well. I think we execute well.”
Jalen Brunson executed well in the Knicks’ first encounter with the Bucks, erupting for 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting from the floor. He added 22 points and eight assists in New York’ 119-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
“It’s something we could put on our resume as a team,” Brunson said, according to the New York Post, of the motivation to advance in the tournament. “So if you have the chance to win something — I mean, we have a chance. So, why not?
“It’s another game for us, and so we’re gonna be ready to go in that aspect. There’s a little bit at stake.”
Fellow Villanova product Donte DiVincenzo added 21 points off the bench on 7-of-10 shooting versus the Raptors. DiVincenzo wasn’t alone, as New York received strong performances from fellow non-starters Josh Hart (17 points, eight rebounds) and Immanuel Quickley (10 points).
“Our bench was terrific,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We got good, solid performances from everybody.”
Julius Randle collected 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against Toronto. He had 16, 12 and five, respectively, in the first meeting with Milwaukee.