LOS ANGELES -- As Giannis Antetokounmpo prepared to enter a large media scrum after Friday's 113-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks star paused. Before stepping into the glare of the cameras, he touched his lip, which had been split open in the game and required three stitches.
Antetokounmpo asked aloud if any blood was still visible and was told by a nearby reporter that he didn't look too bad -- and that, actually, he looked tough.
"I always look tough," Antetokounmpo said, half-joking.
But in the loss, the reigning NBA MVP also looked somewhat mortal en route to 32 points and 11 rebounds, especially after he suffered a scary fall in the second half in which he appeared to land awkwardly and tweak his left knee. He remained on the court for some time while teammates surrounded around the superstar.
"It was scary," Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe said. "It was scary for the whole team."
Antetokounmpo remained in the game and said afterward that his knee -- on which he now wore a compression sleeve -- was fine, though he could be seen limping in the locker room.
"We had a timeout and talked to him and talked to the medical [staff] and again, you have been around him," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. "You do have to protect him from himself. I'm pretty confident he was OK to keep going."
Antetokounmpo's busted lip, though, was indicative of the physical battle that took place at Staples Center between the league's top two teams in what could have been a preview of the NBA Finals in June. Antetokounmpo scored the Bucks' first seven points and 10 of their first 12, but the Lakers' tall front line presented its challenges.
"I feel offensively we were playing slow," Antetokounmpo said. "We're bringing the ball up, mind you. We are playing against LeBron [James], Markieff [Morris] and [ Anthony Davis], like in the half court. They're freakin' 7-foot, [so] it's kinda hard to, like, get an open shot or play. We gotta do a better job playing faster. And defensively, we gave them a lot of lot of free throws."
The Lakers were 31-of-38 from the free throw line, while the Bucks shot 17-of-23.
"We definitely did not play smart," Antetokounmpo said. "I think obviously we tried our best. We fight every game, we try to stay in every game we ever play, but we gave 31 free throws. We put them in the line so easily."
Several Lakers guarded Antetokounmpo, especially in the second half.
"We just tried to throw different looks," Davis said. "He's a hell of a player, and we constantly have to have a team [defense] against him."
Antetokounmpo averaged just 0.33 points per direct drive on Friday, tied for his least productive performance on direct drives in the past three seasons, according to Second Spectrum data. He also shot just 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
There were several times in the second half when James and Antetokounmpo guarded each other, giving fans the matchup they wanted between the top two NBA MVP candidates.
"I think it's always good playing against one of the best players in the league," Antetokounmpo said of James. "Like ... you can feel greatness. All of this I've said in the past: That's what I wanna be. Obviously, he's one of the best players in the game. Really smart; you cannot be B.S.'ing against him. He's gonna come at you. You gotta be ready to go, you gotta be ready to fight against him.
"I think we were ready to fight. I think we did a good job. But at the end of the day, he's going to get his shots up, and he's going to get his teammates as well. He's LeBron James -- what can I say?"
The Bucks, who haven't lost consecutive games all season, face the Suns in Phoenix on Sunday.