Giannis Antetokounmpo's much-hyped debut as a starting point guard? Hmm...yeah. Not good.
Jabari Parker's fourth game in a Bucks uniform? Far more promising.
Though it wasn't enough to overcome hyper-efficient scoring nights from Kevin Love (25 points in 20 minutes) and Dion Waiters (23 points on 8/13 shooting), the second overall pick in the June draft did manage a preseason-best 18 points (7/12 fg, 4/5 ft) in Tuesday's 106-100 loss in Cleveland, providing Bucks fans plenty to cheer about in a game that featured a combined zero minutes from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight.
Aside from Giannis' forgettable night (0/5 fg, 4/4 ft, 4 pts, 0 ast, 1 to) and another rough start from Ersan Ilyasova, the shorthanded Bucks actually acquitted themselves rather respectably, particularly when someone other than Giannis was quarterbacking the offense. Parker's 18 led a balanced Milwaukee attack that also featured double-figure efforts from Jared Dudley (15 points, 5/6 threes), John Henson (13 pts, 6/8 fg, 6 rebs), and O.J. Mayo (13 points), as the Bucks began to show improved fluidity after a slow start from the jumbo starting lineup of Giannis, Khris Middleton, Parker, Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia.
As for the Giannis experiment? Well, in truth it wasn't even like Giannis was playing point guard in the truest sense--most every possession in the first quarter featured Antetokounmpo immediately passing to either Pachulia or Ilyasova 18-20 feet from the hoop, followed by Antetokounmpo then struggling to get open off the ball against the Cavs' smaller guards. Cleveland's defensive intentions were clear on the first possession, as they brought a quick double as soon as Giannis brought the ball past midcourt, and their big men continued to blitz P&Rs the rest of the night. It mostly worked, too, as Giannis was forced to make quick reads and rarely was shown any seams to attack.
Jerryd Bayless, Mayo, Dudley and Henson gave the Bucks a shot in the arm late in the first, helping trim an early 10-point deficit to a 31-27 margin after one. Bayless' probing (9 assists, four turnovers) set up three triples from Dudley to close the period, while Mayo also did his part by scoring eight in the second period as the Bucks went into halftime up 53-51. Still, it was Parker who had the last laugh in the period, twice scoring from the left wing in the final three minutes--first on a running hook, then an emphatic slam after slipping past Shawn Marion.
The second half was similarly nip-and-tuck, as Antetokounmpo finally got on the scoresheet with a pair of trips to the foul line and ignited a fast break that Ilyasova finished:
Ilyasova added a pair of threes to give the Bucks an 87-86 lead early in the fourth, but the Cavaliers' scrubs didn't roll over--even after Parker got loose for dunks on back-to-back possessions. BEHOLD!
- Parker once got on track by attacking the rim, but we also saw him nail a pair of difficult step-back jumpers as well. It's not that you want him taking a ton of long twos, but being able to create and convert those kinds of shots--particularly late in the clock when the offense gets bogged down---is also a big part of what separates good scorers from great ones. So far he's mostly struggled from the perimeter, but hopefully a game like this gives him some increased confidence (without encouraging bad shots of course).
- Both Parker and Antetokounmpo struggled with foul trouble, but Kidd gave them fairly long leashes and didn't let it keep them from getting their minutes. A nice change of pace from Larry Drew's notoriously quick hook.
- One issue the Cavs may have this season: rim protection. With Tristan Thompson joining LeBron in the DNP column, Henson did more or less whatever he wanted down low, dropping his usual array of lefty hooks en route to 13 points on eight shots. Even if he doesn't start, Henson still looks like the only Buck who can reliably score inside.
- Before warming up momentarily in the fourth, Ilyasova (4/10, 10 pts, 9 rebs) once again looked completely out of sorts offensively. He did manage to put together a respectable line in the end, but let's hope he's still getting over the flu that sidelined him the first couple games.
- I'm fully on board with exploiting mismatches--and Giannis against a point guard in the post certainly qualifies--but the Bucks' gameplan in the early going seemed like it might have been a case of overthinking things. Giannis was looking to give it up to a big man seemingly as soon as he crossed midcourt, which understandably led Cleveland to overplay Pachulia and Ilyasova in order to gum up the Bucks' sets. It worked, and in the process it seemed to throw the Bucks' rhythm off for the majority of the time Giannis was "running" the offense. Once Bayless and Wolters came in things returned to more typical flow, and the Bucks' offense perked up noticeably in the process.
- Giannis' best looks in the halfcourt came on a pair of pull-up midrange jumpers, an area of the court where he struggled mightily last year. It's a shot that teams will happily give him until he proves he can make them pay, which is why it's all the more critical that he develop some semblance of an off-the-dribble game to keep defenses honest. In short: the learning process continues.