NBA regular season

Bucks hoping for an MVP boost vs Celtics as Antetokounmpo clears protocols

Bucks hoping for an MVP boost vs Celtics as Antetokounmpo clears protocols

STAR PLAYER. Bucks fans hope to see two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo grace the NBA Christmas Day game.

Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS

Giannis Antetokounmpo may be present in Milwaukee's Christmas Day showdown against the visiting Boston Celtics

The Milwaukee Bucks received an early Christmas present in the form of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo clearing the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Friday, December 24.

However, Antetokounmpo’s status remains up in the air for Milwaukee’s Christmas Day showdown against the visiting Boston Celtics on Saturday afternoon.

With Antetokounmpo sidelined for a fifth straight game in COVID-19 protocols Thursday, the Bucks pulled out a 102-95 road win against a Dallas Mavericks squad playing without superstar Luka Doncic.

Khris Middleton finished with 26 points and seven assists and Jrue Holiday had 24 points while dishing out seven helpers to pace Milwaukee. Recently signed center DeMarcus Cousins contributed 22 points and eight rebounds.

It was the Bucks’ second straight win and third in five games without Antetokounmpo. Whether or not Milwaukee has its star back in time to face Boston in the nationally televised showdown, the Bucks remain a confident bunch.

“We’re a hard team to beat,” Middleton told Bally Sports Wisconsin after Thursday’s win.

Added Middleton, “It’s Christmas Day. I’ve always said playing this game means a lot, not (just) to us but I know the fans also. When I was a kid, after I opened my gifts and what not, got to play with the toys, I was glued to the TV watching the basketball games all day.”

Bucks center Bobby Portis remained out in the COVID protocols on Thursday along with guard Donte DiVincenzo. Forward Sandro Mamukelashvili remains day-to-day with a non-COVID illness.

Boston has won three of its last five games entering Saturday’s contest and is coming off a 111-101 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Jaylen Brown had 34 points to lead the Celtics. Robert Williams III totaled 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists while Jayson Tatum chipped in 18 points and nine boards.

Boston played without center Al Horford, forwards Grant Williams, Jabari Parker, Juancho Hernangomez and Sam Hauser, and guards Josh Richardson and Brodric Thomas – all of whom were sidelined in COVID protocols. Enes Freedom, Justin Jackson, Bruno Fernando and CJ Miles have been added to the since.

Along with the rest of the league, the Celtics have been treading water as they attempt to navigate their COVID outbreak. Boston is 5-6 in December.

One of those wins included a 117-103 home victory over Milwaukee on Dec. 13 in Antetokounmpo’s most recent game.

“I never really looked at the (opponent’s) record, how tough it was,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Wednesday. “As a team, I feel if we play the way we can and we’re capable of, regardless of who’s in or out, I feel like we have a chance to win every night.”

Tatum exploded for a game-high 42 points in the December 13 win against the Bucks. Brown added 19 points as Boston overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half and led by as many as 18 in the closing period.

Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points and eight rebounds and Holiday added 20 points and eight assists in the defeat. Middleton had just four points on 2-of-8 shooting before exiting the game with a left knee injury.

Boston also earned a 122-113 overtime win at home versus Milwaukee in the teams’ first meeting on November 12. –