Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly didn’t enjoy suffering a 129-115 loss to the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena on Friday night, but he couldn’t help but admire how “simple” the game looked to them.
More important, the Jazz earned his respect: Antetokounmpo says they’re the “best team in the West.”
Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA MVP, finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, after being held to two first half points — his fewest in any half this season.
And after witnessing the Jazz have four 25-point scorers for the first time in franchise history, The Greek Freak felt a personal connection to what was happening before his eyes.
“It just looks fun. Like when I watch them play, it looks fun, it looks easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “It looks simple. For sure, they look like us last year, and man, when you’re at that point and you’re playing with that confidence you’re hard to beat for sure.”
Like last season’s Bucks, the Jazz (21-5) have the best record in the NBA. They’ve won 17 of their past 18 games, with the first victory of that stretch also coming against the Bucks on Jan. 8.
Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles had 27 points apiece, and Donovan Mitchell added 26 points with eight assists and six rebounds. Jordan Clarkson went for 25 points off the bench.
Ingles said they would take a minute to celebrate the victory, but then after that it would be back to business.
“I don’t think we’re that satisfied just yet,” said Ingles, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
That’s because their goals are much bigger than the regular season, especially after last season, when they blew a 3-1 lead to Denver and were eliminated in the first round.
“We don’t want to be the best team in February, we want to be the best team in July,” Mitchell said.
Being respected in the top role is still something new for Mitchell and his teammates. As the leaders in Utah, Mitchell’s and Gobert’s paths to becoming an NBA All-Stars were not always written in stone, and they’ve developed an underdog mentality that has carried over to the team.
“It’s different in my four years. You look at all of us and each individual story … [we were] underrated,” Mitchell said. “I think now we’re at a point where people are coming at us, and the way we’ve responded to that is very impressive. I think there’s a lot more we can do to continue to get better, but it doesn’t hurt to be in the moment and understand that what we’re doing is pretty cool.”
The road doesn’t get much easier for Utah, with Miami, Philadelphia and back-to-back games against the LA Clippers up next. Then it’s Charlotte on Feb. 22 followed by the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 24 and the Heat again Feb. 26.
Although the emphasis might not be on the regular season, the Jazz know they can’t bypass it either.
However, Jazz coach Quin Snyder says, “nobody is beating their chest about anything that we’ve done.”
“Frankly you never want to do that and it’s never appropriate unless you’re the last team standing,” Snyder said. “That’s something we’ll continue to try to avoid.”