For a few moments Thursday night, the Lakers had hope. LeBron James swished a three-pointer as the shot clock expired and the Lakers seemed to have stopped a push by the Milwaukee Bucks push to increase their lead.
However, like each similar moment, it passed. Before long, Anthony Davis missed a wide-open three-pointer, then reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo made one.
In a showdown between the best team in the Eastern Conference and the best team in the Western Conference, the West’s representative didn’t have enough. The Lakers lost to the Bucks 111-104, making this the first time this season that they have lost two games in a row.
The loss dropped them to 24-5, and closed a 10-day, five-game trip that also took them to Orlando, Miami, Atlanta and Indiana.
Antetokounmpo scored 34 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists, while leading the Bucks to a 25-4 record. He also made five three-pointers — a career high.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to him, he made five of them, and they was all tough looks,” Davis said. “Two tightly contested at the end of the shot clock. One was wide open and I think the other two was dribble-up threes from the wing, which he [usually] likes the top of the key. You tip your hat off to him and we move forward.”
James answered a similar question without words. He simply pantomimed tipping an imaginary hat.
LeBron "tips his hat" to Giannis' career-high 5 threes. pic.twitter.com/CJOC3meSd1— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 20, 2019
Davis, who missed the Lakers’ previous game with a sprained right ankle, scored 36 points with 10 rebounds and five assists.
James scored 21, with 12 rebounds and 11 assists, for his seventh triple-double this year. He played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls.
The Lakers looked lethargic and disorganized as the game started. They struggled to run plays, got in each other’s way and committed careless turnovers. James and Davis went one for 11 combined in the first quarter with Davis making the only shot.
“They have great length,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of the Bucks. “They’re the No. 1 team at scoring in the paint. Any time you go in there, you know you’re going to see a double. And you’ve got to make the right reads.”
It all added up to the Lakers tying their lowest-scoring first quarter of the season with 17 points.
Things did not improve in the second quarter. Milwaukee outscored the Lakers 20-7 before Vogel took a timeout.
There were moments when the Lakers seemed to come back to life, but they didn’t last. Milwaukee scored 42 points during the quarter and the Lakers trailed 65-46 at the break.
“We did have some careless turnovers in the second quarter, which resulted in a lot of possessions for them, but once we kind of calmed down after that quarter, we played exceptional basketball offensively,” James said. “We got some great shots from the outside, we got some great interior possessions.”
The Lakers started scoring after halftime, but the Bucks kept pace. After George Hill slipped by for an uncontested layup to make the score 78-61, James slammed the ball to the court.
But the momentum turned not long afterward, as Davis finally got going.
“I’m still feeling it a little bit but I wanted to play,” Davis said of the right ankle he sprained Sunday in Atlanta. “I wanted to do what I could to help the team and that was really it.”
He scored only eight points in the first half, but had 15 in the third, as the Lakers took advantage of a stretch when Antetokounmpo sat.
James also passed Gary Payton for ninth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list during the third quarter.
The Lakers trailed by eight heading into the fourth quarter, fell behind by 15 again, and made a late push.
James saw Davis running just a step ahead of Antetokounmpo and Davis dunked on the Bucks’ star to cut the deficit to seven with 2:03 left in the game. The seventh three-pointer of the game by Danny Green made it 109-104, but that was as close as the Lakers would get in the second half.
“Nobody on this team is quitters,” Green said. “Everybody is going to continue to fight and find ways to get it done by winning or find ways to get back into a game and give ourselves a chance.”
At a timeout with 33.6 seconds left and the Bucks leading by seven, a Milwaukee cheering section could be heard chanting “Beat L.A.” The Lakers hadn’t heard that chant in any other arena this season.