I've been coming to Vegas for summer league since 2008, and I can't recall ever struggling to find a seat for a Bucks game.
Apparently times have changed.
Hours after LeBron James had announced he was coming back to Cleveland, the Bucks and Cavs packed the Cox Pavilion Friday night for a deservedly-hyped matchup between Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. And while neither dominated, we saw enough from Parker, Wiggins and fellow 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo to confirm what we suspected: the kid are alright.
Ultimately, it was horrendous Milwaukee perimeter shooting (2/20 from three) and a 12-2 Cavalier run early in the fourth that doomed the Bucks to a 70-68 defeat in their Vegas opener (box score), but we saw more than enough from the trio of 19-year-olds to justify the hype that came with them. Though neither had their jumper particularly dialed in, Parker still bulldozed his way to 17 points (5/11 fg, 0/3 threes, 7/11 ft) and nine rebounds, while Wiggins bounced, cut and chucked up enough shots to finish with a game-high 18 points (albeit on 7/18 shooting). Giannis had more than his share of moments, too, matching Jabari with 17 (6/12 fg, 2/5 threes, 3/5 ft) and adding six boards and a highlight-reel block to go with a not-so-pleasant five turnovers and seven fouls. Rough edges will need filing, but the goods are clearly there for all these guys. Here's the blow-by-blow:
Giannis started poorly with a missed jumper, errant transition pass and a travel before later picking up three fouls that earned him a seat on the bench with four minutes left in the quarter. Parker followed not soon after, though he looked a bit more comfortable even if he was settling for long jumpers that weren't finding the mark. However, he did at least bully his way to a pair of free throw line trips as the Bucks repeatedly looked to find him on lobs over the top, though Wiggins was the first out of the trio to hit a shot. Nate Wolters perked the Bucks up early with a pair of finishes in the paint, but otherwise both teams looked ragged in struggling to a 15-15 tie after one quarter.
The young Bucks started to get in their comfort zone in the second, as Parker earned a pair of free throws with a bullying drive and then delivered two slashing finishes in quick succession: A lefty floater off a closeout was followed by a spinning coast-to-coast finish (plus foul) on the very next possession. Not to be left out, the Bucks then looked to get Giannis involved with a series of touches from the left block, though he didn't hit his stride until he began to attack the slower Anthony Bennett from the top of the key. With Bennett sagging off him, Giannis drained a pair ofthrees before both he and Parker each set up JaJuan Johnson dunks with attacks off the dribble. Giannis added a tip-in before Jabari scored off another drive, capping a surge that had the packed Cox Pavilion buzzing and the young Bucks huffing and puffing.
Not that it was all sunshine and roses. Giannis was back-cut by Wiggins for a thunderous slam (right before his second three), and he generally had his hands full staying with the springy #1 overall pick. Meanwhile, Parker struggled with Wiggins' length at times, and one or two of his trips to the line could have been classified as bail-out calls. And on the conditioning front, both guys looked winded after a fast few minutes of up-and-down basketball in the second.
Parker drew another foul early on Wiggins, but he went to the bench fairly early in the period and was left to watch as Wiggins went to work a bit off the dribble. Giannis had a bit more luck, getting out ahead of Wiggins for a thunderous one-handed transition slam (see below) before knifing past Bennett for a layup and foul. Not to be overlooked was Johnny O'Bryant, who came in for Parker and looked at home on the block with a 3/4 quarter that also included a nice feed to a cutting Chris Wright.
Leading 55-48 after three, the Bucks stuttered through the first half of the fourth, struggling to get good looks in half court and triggering repeated Cavalier breaks when they mucked things up. It's not that they didn't have the right idea; Parker was constantly looking for P&R actions from the elbows on out, but the Cavs did well keeping the paint clogged, leaving the Bucks to futilely huck up wayward jumpers. Aside from Giannis' quick pair of threes in the second quarter, the Bucks were a dismal 0/18 from deep, and their ball movement was well intentioned but generally didn't lead to a whole lot (just six assists and 17 turnovers). Whatever, it's the first game of summer league, you know?
Anyway, the Bucks recovered in the final two minutes to make a game of it, with Parker contorting for a double-pumping paint finish past Wiggins before Giannis somehow tossed up an and-one banker in transition to bring the Bucks within two. Parker then almost slammed home the ensuing missed free throw, though he did redeem himself with 12 seconds left when he quickly drove and finished at the rack over Wiggins to bring the Bucks within two inside 10 seconds:
The Bucks then had a chance to win it after Nate Wolters intentionally missed a free throw down two, but his contested three pointer at the horn clanged wide left.
- As expected, the Bucks put Parker on the bigger Bennett and Giannis on Wiggins for the most part, though there was cross-matching at times. Bennett got himself going a bit with some easy buckets in transition in the second half, though he didn't appear to scare Parker too much in halfcourt. Still, Parker almost looked like he forgot to challenge a handful of Bennett jumpers in the second half, even if it didn't really matter as he repeatedly came up short from distance. Still, defensive focus will be an area where Parker will likely be challenged as a rookie, and it's never too early to start developing good habits.
- Parker and Giannis both looked good in transition, as Jabari reminded us that he's also capable of going coast to coast despite carrying 250+ pounds on his 6'9" frame. Watching him juke, spin and power his way to the bucket in the open court offered a nice reminder of how gifted an athlete he really is. When he actually matures and chisels his physique a bit? Look out.
- I was pretty much exclusively focusing on Parker and Giannis all game, so I won't claim to have been paying close attention to everything Kenny Kadji did. I would say that O'Bryant showed some nice strength and polish down low, Wolters was active but hurt the Bucks with his lack of shooting, Jordan Taylor was more or less anonymous in 14 scoreless and assist-less minutes, and JaJuan Johnson had a couple nice finishes. Otherwise....meh.
- It seemed strange to use the smaller of the two arenas at Thomas & Mack for a game involving the top two picks in the draft, and that bore itself out in the lack of space for fans and media alike. At one point fans were advised that they may not be able to get back in the gym if they went to the bathroom or concessions.
- Speaking of crowded, I've also never seen so many actual Bucks players in Vegas at once. Larry Sanders and Carlos Delfino had been in town the past few days working with the team, and in the building today we also saw Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and John Henson. Hopefully that means everyone's excited to be working with the new staff...
- David Morway was really excited for JOB3 after the game, though the media was mostly just waiting for Jabari's first post-game talk.
- Wiggins struggled from distance, but showed some nice in-between stuff as he was able to consistently get good looks. He had less success attacking the rim, but generally looked dangerous whenever the Bucks closed out too aggressively.
"It felt real good. I like my teammates a lot."
"It's going real good. That's a guy I can relate to, especially him being young and I'm getting ready to start my journey in the NBA. I can get a lot of knowledge from him because I'm trying to get to where he is."
"I think we did real good. Yeah,we did real good. We just need to communicate with each other a little bit e better on the offensive and even on the defensive end."