Tuesday night in Cleveland offered a glimpse of how Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and (maybe?) Brandon Knight might one day be a "big three" capable of carrying a team to contender status. Now for the bad news: We also saw why LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving already are.
Despite the best efforts of Milwaukee's frisky youngsters, the Cavs' trio of all-stars were just a bit too much on Tuesday, combining for 81 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists as Cleveland rallied from an 11-point third quarter deficit to outlast the Bucks, 111-108.
Ultimately the game down to stops, or in the Bucks' case the lack thereof. Though they hit just 6/21 from deep, the Cavs finished the night shooting 53% overall from the field and made a living at the line (27/38 vs. 11/13 for Milwaukee), using big scoring runs in the middle of the third and early in the fourth to turn around a game that the Bucks led 74-63 midway through the third.
The upside for Milwaukee was a sensational night from Parker, who reminded the Cavaliers what they could have had on draft night. The second overall pick connected on 11/15 shots to finish with 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists, giving him 41 points, 17 boards and eight dimes over the last two games. Knight also did his part, going shot-for-shot with Irving and finishing with 27 points (10/18 fg, 5/9 threes), eight assists and six rebounds while flourishing both on and off the ball. Giannis' night featured more ups and downs, as he battled foul trouble while taking turns guarding both Love and LeBron. He still finished with a solid 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, but hit a middling 6/14 from the field and came up short on a number of crucial possessions late.
The Cavs jumped on the Bucks early thanks to Love, who punished Parker and company for giving him any sliver of daylight with 6/7 shooting from the field and 17 points in the first quarter alone. But the Bucks stuck around early and then took over when the reserves entered, with Ersan Ilyasova scoring 9 points before a James forearm shiver to the face ended his night in the second quarter.
Luckily, Parker was on hand to help keep the Bucks going, exploding for eight quick points including an absurd lefty reverse along the baseline to help the Bucks to a 54-52 halftime lead. Overall, the Bucks piled up 17 assists and just five turnovers in the half, moving the ball exceptionally well to counter Love's unstoppable inside-out game.
Ersan hurt. Kidd revealed after the game that Ilyasova went to the hospital with his facial injury, a worrying sign for a Bucks team that had come to count on his scoring punch and hustling defense off the bench. Feel better, Ersan.
The injury figures to leave the Bucks shorthanded up front when they face the Mavericks at home on Wednesday -- while Zaza Pachulia did return to the lineup in Cleveland after traveling to his grandmother's funeral in Georgia over the weekend, John Henson will likely miss another couple weeks with his sprained foot. Losing Ilyasova would pile even more pressure on Jabari and Giannis to soak up minutes at power forward, which is something of a "careful what you wish for" type scenario. We all want to see lots of those two, but preferably not because there's no one else available to give them a rest.
Jabari doing work. Parker had a quiet start, scoring just two points on his first three shots. But he exploded in the second and went on to hit 10 of his last 12 over the remainder of the game, including four or five dunks and a sprinking of mid-range jump shots to keep the Cavs honest. The beautiful thing is how Parker is learning to play within himself. His default mode is to either attack or pass it quickly -- no more dilly-dallying on the ball, three pointers or forcing fadeaway jumpers because he doesn't think he'll get the ball back. He's scoring in the paint like he did in college, but also showing the occasional flashes of playmaking that no one ever really saw at Duke (4.3 assists per game over the last three). Oh, and just look at these moves -- and yet ANOTHER left-handed finish:
Jabari Parker has ALL OF THE LEFTY SMASHES https://t.co/FvBOkF7tYo— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) December 3, 2014
Defensively there's obviously still plenty of work to do. Love made Jabari pay three times when he sagged off him at the three point line, and his lack of length allowed Love to shoot over him in the post. His decision-making as a pick-and-roll defender is also rather rookie-like, though it's not all negatives either. His anticipation allows him to consistently jump passing lanes for deflections and steals, and his mobility allows him to at least vaguely defend both threes and fours. Kidd also gave him a chance to defend LeBron in the fourth, a decision that didn't make a ton of sense tactically but which didn't really hurt the Bucks -- and should only help Jabari in the big picture.
Mayo's shot. O.J. Mayo's struggles from the perimeter continue, though the weird part is that he's still finding ways to be useful. Having entered the night shooting a career-worst 29.9% from deep, Mayo went 0/5 from deep and is now 0/12 from three over the past three games. But he was still able to get things going off the dribble and added five assists as the Bucks' starters managed to score respectably despite Knight being the only guy currently capable of hitting a shot from distance. It helps that opponents still defend Mayo like he's a threat from deep -- so he's effectively spacing the floor even when he's not making shots -- but at some point he's going to need to start making shots from the outside. I have to think it's only a matter of time, though sooner would be better. Opponents know that Giannis, Jabari and Sanders have zero interest in launching from deep right now, and at some point they'll need Mayo's jumpshot to help alleviate the pressure on them to do damage off the dribble.
Giannis vs. Miller. Not a great fourth quarter for Giannis, who should have had a mismatch against Mike Miller but struggled to get good looks against the aging veteran. Credit to Miller for reading the scouting report on Giannis and anticipating that Giannis would drive left from the top of the key, uncharacteristically swatting his shot on one move and then burying a three shortly thereafter.
Knight off the ball. The Bucks' best offense is a varied one, and they got that in the second half by running Knight off screens on numerous occasions while having Giannis bring the ball up. At one point Knight came off screens to hit back-to-back threes from the left wing, though he also looked better and more decisive running high P&R with Jabari. It felt like a less dribbly Knight, and that's generally a better Knight.