What was seen and said in the Pacers-Bucks postgame fracas as Giannis Antetokounmpo went searching for game ball
Antetokounmpo had a historic scoring night (64 points) in a win over the Pacers. He thought the Pacers took the game ball, but video evidence shows otherwise — for an unfortunate misunderstanding.
The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t lose a quarter, never trailed after the first period and had their starters finish the game in a 140-126 win over the Pacers Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
The Pacers (13-9) had already beaten them twice before this season, including just last week in Las Vegas to advance to the championship game of the In-Season Tournament.
So the Bucks (17-7) were on a mission. They wanted payback and to leave no doubt.
Soon after the buzzer sounded, Giannis Antetokounmpo walked over to the Pacers’ bench and was heated. He had a few words for Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and then, as a conversation continued with Haliburton, along with Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton of the Bucks, Antetokounmpo sprinted toward the Pacers’ locker room as a member of Bucks security unsuccessfully tried to hold him back by his jersey.
The Bucks telecast showed Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder (not in uniform) in the hallway with some security between them and members of the Pacers. Head coach Rick Carlisle and general manager Chad Buchanan were right there with players behind them.
Antetokounmpo — whose career-high 64 points was also a Bucks franchise record — was incensed because he thought the Pacers had the game ball.
His game ball.
In the first 10 seconds of the video above, you can see the member of Bucks security telling Giannis: “We got it. We got it.”
And it’s clear in the video below that the same Bucks security member — presumably their head of executive protection since he’s with Giannis — grabbed the ball from official James Capers and handed it to a Bucks staff member.
“What happened after the game was unfortunate,” Carlisle said postgame. “There was a misunderstanding about the game ball. It was Oscar Tshiebwe’s first official NBA point, we always get the game ball. We were not thinking about Giannis’ franchise record.
“A couple minutes later, several of their players ended up in our hallway. There was a big fracas, melee, whatever. I don’t think any punches were landed, but my general manager got elbowed in the ribs by one of their players. He certainly has a bruised rib and who knows if it’s anything more than that. Unfortunate situation.
“It didn’t need to escalate to that.”
The Pacers always give the game ball to a rookie after he scores his first NBA points. Like in this video, from April 2022, to guard Gabe York in the Philadelphia locker room. “Congratulations, man,” Carlisle said while proudly handing the ball over to York. “First NBA points right here.”
The ball is then sent out to be painted with the key notes: player name, accomplishment, date, opponent, etc.
Carlisle emptied his bench with 5:54 left in the game and down by 18 points. Tshiebwe, the national college player of the year in 2022 at the University of Kentucky, made a free throw with 2:42 left in the game. (Yes, he made a free throw in the tournament championship against the Lakers, but those stats do not officially count.)
The Pacers’ reserves cut the deficit to 10 with 2:05 left, which prompted Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin to bring back his starters to close.
Meanwhile, Pacers top assistant coach Lloyd Pierce played peacemaker while whatever happened back in the tunnel and locker room area. Antetokounmpo returned and was fuming directly at coach Pierce and Haliburton.
Finally, about three minutes after the game ended, he left the court area. And then he had a lot to say.
“I knew they had the ball,” Antetokounmpo said, adding that he also wanted a game ball for Lillard, who moved into fifth all-time in NBA history for made 3s.
There are always three basketballs chosen pregame, each individually numbered: one that is used, plus two alternates in case a basketball gets wet and is unusable, for example.
The Pacers say they took one of the alternate basketballs.
Here’s Lillard’s perspective: “They took the game ball and that type of stuff happens in the NBA when people get offended by how it happened. Maybe they felt like he should've been out of the game and he was trying to get points or whatever. So they did something like that. They took the ball…”
This shouldn’t be difficult to confirm. Bucks security can take a look at cameras in the lower bowl to confirm that the staff member, who was handed the ball by team security, left the court area with the ball — and not a member of the Pacers.
It’s unfortunate how this became a thing, that emotions were heated and it took spotlight away from Antetokounmpo’s dominant performance.
“I liked the way we competed tonight, we just didn’t play well,” Carlisle said. “It wasn’t our night.”
It was a physical battle between two Central Division foes.
The game lasted two hours, 48 hours.
Had eight technicals, one ejection and one flagrant foul.
Totaled 266 points, surpassing the over for the game (258.5).
Antetokounmpo attempted as many free throws as the Pacers (32)
And he scored one less point than the Pacers’ starters (64) combined.
The Pacers flew out after the game and landed in Washington D.C. around 2 a.m. ET.
These two teams meet once again at the first of the year and play each other in consecutive games: Jan. 1 in Milwaukee and Jan. 3 in Indianapolis.