Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton goes up for a shot. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo
MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton will get the credit for knocking down a game-winning 3-pointer in the waning moments of the Milwaukee Bucks' 108-105 overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons Friday night at the Bradley Center, but it almost certainly would not have been possible without a hustle play from rookie big man Thon Maker.
It was Maker who pulled down the rebound of Middleton's missed attempt seconds earlier, and it was Maker who rifled the ball right back to Middleton, standing in the exact same spot, who drained the go-ahead bucket and put the Bucks ahead for good.
And on top of all that, it was just icing on the cake for Maker, who finished with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including four 3-pointers, as the Bucks extended their winning streak to three games and moved into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
"He picked up his teammates and took advantage of his minutes," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "I thought he did a great job in the pick-and-roll and tried to change shots.
"He came up with the tip-out to Khris and while Khris made that shot, it couldn't have happened if it wasn't for Maker. He did a lot of the little things. He shot the ball when he was open and he made plays on the defensive end."
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks (40-34) with 28 points and narrowly missed his third triple-double of the season, finishing with 14 rebounds and nine assists, but he had high praise for Maker, the team's first-round selection in last summer's draft.
"The way he plays, the way he practices, the way he learns and the way he gets better is unbelievable," Antetokounmpo said. "It's unreal. He's going to keep getting better and he's going to keep helping the team do great things."
Middleton added 25 for Milwaukee, which shot 41.7 percent but made 14 of 36 3-pointers and went 24 of 34 from the free throw line, including a 14-of-21 showing from Antetokounmpo.
He alone out-shot the Pistons from the stripe; Detroit attempted just 16 for the game -- making 10 -- while shooting 45.4 percent overall and going 7 of 30 from distance.
"We got off to a slow start," said Tobias Harris, who led the Pistons with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting. "We gained some momentum getting some easy baskets and some stops. We just kept fighting our way back. It came down to a couple of possessions at the end; some loose balls we needed to get, some offensive rebounds that they got and converted. That hurt us at the end of the game."
A slow start would be an understatement.
The Pistons trailed 22-4 after a Middleton 3-pointer with 6:18 left in the opening quarter. They turned the ball over four times during that opening sequence but coughed it up just six more times over the final three quarters.
And as the offense started clicking, the Bucks' shooting went ice cold. A 14-2 run gave the Pistons their first lead of the night late in the third quarter, and they pushed the lead to 10 on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 3-pointer with 4:59 left in regulation.
But that's when playing for the fourth time in five nights started to catch up with the Pistons, who sent Antetokounmpo to the line eight times down the stretch. He made six of them and finished with 11 points in the quarter.
Harris gave Detroit a 95-93 lead with 1:14 left but a Maker put-back sent the game to overtime, where the Bucks got five each from Maker and Antetokounmpo to close it out.
"I don't think we could have played any harder," Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The guys made a good effort against a very good team. They made more plays than we did. Some of their key guys really played well but the difference really came down to Thon Maker. He was a difference in the game."
NOTES: Milwaukee was without G Malcolm Brogdon, who was sidelined with back pain. Matthew Dellavedova started in place of Brogdon while F Michael Beasley returned to action Friday after missing 16 games with a hyperextended left knee. He scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in seven minutes of work. ... After being arrested under suspicion of a DUI earlier this week, Pistons G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope told reporters after the game that he wanted to focus on basketball. Head coach Stan Van Gundy declined to comment on the matter as well.