MILWAUKEE -- On any given night, Giannis Antetokounmpo succeeds at suspending fans' disbelief and completing the unthinkable.
Antetokounmpo has levitated on blocks. He has spiked balls into the Fiserv Forum stands with superman strength.
On Friday night, Antetokounmpo came as close to flying as most can get -- soaring over LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac and clobbering him with a gasp-worthy dunk to highlight a 119-91 Bucks win to improve to 20-3, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for best in the NBA.
These are the games in which the "Greek Freak" revels.
"Now he is eating players," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, cracking a smile. "Great players do that. They understand when someone gets the best of them or a team gets the best of them, they don't cry about it. They look at it and say, I've got to get better."
On the court, Antetokounmpo believes in serving piping hot platters of revenge. He was determined to seek retribution over Kawhi Leonard -- the player most responsible for sending Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks home in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals as a member of the Toronto Raptors.
Antetokounmpo already used his animus to overpower the Raptors on Nov. 2, scoring a then-season best 36 points. After that game, he said he had "a lot of motivation" to beat the defending champions, but they were "obviously a different team." Toronto was missing the man Antetokounmpo craved to play against the most: Leonard.
Friday wasn't the first time the Bucks had faced the Clippers this season. Milwaukee had already gone Los Angeles to beat the Clippers at Staples Center. But at the time, Paul George had yet to debut after offseason shoulder surgery, and Leonard was taking the night off for load management, returning to action the following night in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
"We want to be one of the best teams in the league, and to be that, you have to face the best teams in the league at their best," Antetokounmpo said ahead of Friday's rematch with the Clippers.
In some ways, Zubac was a surrogate for his teammate, Leonard. Antetokounmpo and Leonard did not go head-to-head often, so instead, Antetokounmpo unleashed in other ways. Essentially, Zubac was just a guy in Antetokounmpo's way. Don't get in Antetokounmpo's way.
The first half lacked the razzle-dazzle expected of a matchup between two of the best players in the league. Antetokounmpo scored only 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and Leonard's first six shots were from at least 12 feet. Milwaukee's first-half lead wasn't built by Antetokounmpo manhandling defenders and skillfully bullying his way to the rim, but rather by Milwaukee's second unit.
With just over five minutes left in the first quarter and the Clippers leading by two, Antetokounmpo sauntered over to the bench. Without him, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and built a double-digit advantage. He returned with a minute and a half left and the Bucks up by 11. Overall, the Bucks were outscored by 10 points in Antetokounmpo's 16 first-half minutes, and the Bucks outscored the Clippers by 19 in the 8:44 that Antetokounmpo was off the floor.
"I don't know what word I would use to describe his first half, but it wasn't what we've come to expect from Giannis," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We are so spoiled. We felt like he was human -- he just kind of had an ordinary first half. But he's not going to stand for that very long and he came out and quickly turned things in the third quarter. That was the punch we needed to throw back."
Budenholzer saw what he needed from Antetokounmpo within a span of the first 4:13 of the second half:
A running layup on George that drew a foul
The dunk on Zubac after rolling off a handoff to Wesley Matthews
A 3-pointer that forced the Clippers to call a timeout
Antetokounmpo finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists in 27 minutes. He is the only player to record 4,000 rebounds and 2,000 assists by age 25, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau research, he is the first player with four straight 25-point games while playing fewer than 30 minutes.
"Some of the stuff he do is just surreal," Eric Bledsoe said of Antetokounmpo. "There are countless plays he makes that you just don't see normally. I am glad to be on his team."
It is tempting to use the Bucks' win as fodder for an argument that Milwaukee will be the NBA champion. The Clippers, after all, are considered by many to be a title favorite at best and a Western Conference finalist at worst. While it is certainly possible Milwaukee finishes on top, it is also a good time to remember that the Bucks beat Leonard and the Raptors three times in four meetings during the 2018-19 regular season.
That's the magic of Leonard -- he turns it on in a second without any warning and does it all while keeping the same expression he would have if he had to tell you that your dog is sick. The Clippers and Bucks will not face off again unless they meet in the 2020 NBA Finals, and the Finals is where Leonard has been unrelenting.
For now, the Bucks will take this win over Leonard's team -- their 14th in a row for Milwaukee's longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger.
"We got to keep learning and keep getting better," Antetokounmpo said. "Keep going out there playing hard. Doesn't matter if you have two wins in a row, 14 wins in a row. We just got to keep playing together and keep being humble."