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Giannis saves day

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GIANNIS Antetokounmpo tallies 40 points, including the game-winning layup, to lift the Milwaukee Bucks to a 127-125 win over the Charlotte Hornets. / Agence France-presse

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo drove for the game-winning layup with two seconds left on Wednesday, lifting the National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Milwaukee Bucks to a 127-125 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and MVP of the 2021 Finals, scored 40 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks rallied for an eighth straight win.

The Hornets were on fire early at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, making 10 of 17 three-pointers in the first quarter.

They led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but couldn’t maintain the torrid pace, Milwaukee closing the deficit to 68-60 at halftime.

The Bucks took the lead for the first time with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter, when George Hill’s three-point play put them up 91-90.

They led by two going into a fourth quarter that developed into a back-and-forth battle that featured 10 lead changes.

Khris Middleton, who scored 21 points for the Bucks, drained a three-pointers with 52 seconds remaining for a 123-122 lead.

LaMelo Ball, who led the Hornets with 36 points, drained a three with 5.9 seconds left — enough time for Antetokounmpo to get the ball out of a timeout and drive for the winner.

Meanwhile, there was little suspense in New Orleans, where the Dallas Mavericks led virtually all the way in a 139-107 rout of the Pelicans.

Luka Doncic scored 28 points and handed out 14 assists and Kristaps Porzingis added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavs, who were coming off a 114-96 loss to Cleveland.

The Mavs, who had lost five of their past six, shook off their recent shooting woes in a big way, connecting on 57 of 83 shots from the floor, including 18 three-pointers.

Their 68.7 shooting percentage was a franchise record for a game, breaking the previous high of 68.6 set in 1983.

“It all started with Luka,” Porzingis said.

“Our energy was there — the chain-reaction starting from him.”

Doncic, who had a triple-double in the loss to Cleveland, had 22 points and 10 assists in the first half to join Damian Lillard and Trae Young as the only players with multiple 20-point, 10-assist halves since the 2018-2019 season.

“We came out with a lot of energy,” Doncic said.

“Those shots were open, so we knocked them down.”

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