HOUSTON—When Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out with more than five minutes left after putting up a triple-double against the Houston Rockets, the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t panic.
“These guys in this locker room, we’re fighters, we’re competitors,” Wesley Matthews said. “If Giannis fouls out we can’t just come into the locker room.”
Antetokounmpo scored 30 points and his supporting cast held on to lead the Bucks to a 117-111 victory over the Rockets on Thursday night in a star-studded opener featuring the last three MVPs.
Antetokounmpo, the MVP last season, also had 13 rebounds and 11 assists. While certainly upset after fouling out, he was impressed with the way his team responded.
“They did an amazing job,” he said. “Moving the ball, knocking down shots.”
Brook Lopez made two free throws with about a minute left before a lay-up by Russell Westbrook. But Lopez made a fadeaway shot to leave Milwaukee up, 115-109, with 39 seconds remaining. James Harden added a pair of free throws before Ersan Ilyasova made a jump shot with about 15 seconds to go that sent many fans heading to the exits.
Some had wondered what would happen with the pairing of the two ball-dominant guards in Harden and Westbrook after the 2017 MVP was traded from Oklahoma City for Chris Paul this summer. In their first game together with the Rockets both filled up the stat sheet, but they were unable to come away with a win after leading for much of the game.
Westbrook had 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.
Harden, the 2018 MVP, added 19 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds. He was 2 of 13 from the field, 1 of 8 on threes and made 14 free throws without a miss.
“They’re going to be fine,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s sad to say, but we’re not going to win 82 games this year. Now we’ve got a chance to win 81.”
The Bucks led by six when Antetokounmpo fouled out. He walked to Coach Mike Budenholzer and implored him to challenge the call, but he’d already used his one challenge per game that coaches get this season and couldn’t do anything to help his superstar.
Harden echoed his D’Antoni’s sentiment and raved about Westbrook.
“Everybody saw it tonight,” Harden said. “He’s a different type of breed on that court. But it’s Game 1, we’re not going to get too down, and even if we won, we’re not going to get too excited.”
Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, spoiled the Golden Warriors’ first game at Chase Center just as he did their farewell at Oracle Arena four months ago, scoring 21 points in three quarters to lead Los Angeles to the 141-122 win at Golden State’s snazzy new arena.
Reigning NBA Finals MVP Leonard shot 9 for 17 and also dished out nine assists in his second game with LA.
Stephen Curry scored 23 points and D’Angelo Russell added 20 in his Golden State debut, but the Warriors got beat up the way they used to do it against the entire NBA, even giving up a 46-point third quarter.
Patrick Patterson scored 20 points and Ivica Zubac had 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots for Los Angeles.
Curry, who at 31 is the oldest Warriors player, was 2 of 11 on 3s as Golden State went 15 for 42 from deep.