“He loves this city, so it’s only right the city loves him back,” Bucks star forward Khris Middleton stated after the game to a few remaining media members, when talking about Jabari Parker and his triumphant return from a second torn ACL on Friday night.
The quote spoke volumes after an ugly 92-90 win over the New York Knicks, but also rang true in the Bradley Center that evening. Before Parker even stepped on to the court, the Bucks’ home crowd rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation, acknowledging not only their love for the player, but also the recognition of what he had gone through to get back to that point.
Parker was so excited and anxious to get back onto the floor for a meaningful game, that he actually tried to check in just a bit before he was actually allowed to, during a set of three free throws from Tim Hardaway Jr.
Parker officially checked into the game with just over five minutes left in the first quarter, and did not take long to get into the score sheet. On one end, he picked up a quick foul. But on the other end, he showed his confidence and scoring ability, pulling up for a mid-range jumper on the baseline against Enes Kanter, and hitting it in rhythm to really get the crowd going.
Parker scored six points in less than four minutes back on the floor to get things moving for him. After one, the Knicks led the Bucks, 29-28.
Toward the end of Parker’s first stint in game action, he took off from the left baseline, and tried to absolutely throw down on Kyle O’Quinn. Parker couldn’t finish the dunk, but did get fouled and hit two free throws.
Parker’s front court mate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, of course contributed in the first half as well, leading the team with 13 points, including a beautiful drive-through euro-step for a dunk. Jabari scored all 12 of his points in the first half, and Kanter led New York with 11 points and 10 boards to make it 55-55 at the intermission.
The second half of this game, although intense, was one of the uglier halves of NBA basketball one is likely to watch this year. Most of the half was played within an eight-point range, while guys like Sterling Brown and Kanter made the biggest plays in the third quarter, with the two teams headed into the final quarter tied at 74.
Kanter was the biggest reason NY was even in the game, as Milwaukee had no answer for him, and the Knicks had a whopping 42-20 rebounding advantage on the glass at one point.
In nearly 10 minutes of game action in the final quarter, the Bucks and Knicks combined for only 26 points, including a 2:20 stretch where no one scored and the game was stuck at 86, until Kristaps Porzingis made a pair of free throws to give New York a two point lead.
Fast forward to under a minute left in regulation, with the game deadlocked at 90. The Knicks had the ball, and got it into Kanter, who quickly had a look, but then missed a heavily contested layup, giving the best player on the floor the ball with 21 seconds left in the game.
Antetokounmpo did not call a timeout, and brought the ball up the floor. With about six seconds left, the Greek Freak was screened for, which led to a NY switch to put Kanter on Giannis. Kanter is not known as a great defender, but actually played Antetokounmpo pretty well. Giannis is just so much better and more athletic than anyone else on the court, and was able to spin and hit the game-winning layup with under two seconds to go, to make the final score 92-90 after New York couldn’t get off a high-quality look at the buzzer.
Kanter led the Knicks with 17 points and 18 rebounds, while Antetokounmpo and Parker were the only Bucks to score in double figures, with 29 and 12, respectively.
On his return, Parker stated, “It felt great. Honestly, training myself to think about it as just getting better. It’s not going to take just one game or a few games. It’s a whole process, but that game didn’t really stick out as much as people perceived it to.”
According to Middleton, Friday was pretty perfect for Milwaukee, he explained after the thrilling victory. “It definitely doesn’t (get any better than this). It’s great to have Jabari back, especially with the way he played tonight. More importantly, we got the win. It’s a great night all-around.”
Milwaukee, now winners of five of six, will travel to Brooklyn to take on the Nets on Sunday morning.