It was at turns beautiful and brutal, cathartic and chaotic.
It was also a win.
Playing in front of a loud BMO Harris Bradley Center crowd, the Bucks scraped out a a much-needed win against LeBron James and the Cavs in double overtime on Saturday night, ending Cleveland's eight-game winning streak with a 108-105 victory. Energy and effort were the central storylines, as the Bucks forced 20 turnovers and nabbed 15 offensive rebounds against a Cavalier team coming off a hard-fought win in New York just 24 hours earlier. Still, James was able to lead the Cavs back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit before the Bucks' fresher legs and active defense finally won out. James finished with a monster 37p/12r/5a line, but turned it over seven times while Kevin Love added 24p/14r.
Seven Bucks scored in double figures led by 17 from Jerryd Bayless and Michael Carter-Williams, and each made big plays down the stretch on both ends. Greg Monroe (16p/17r/3a) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (16p/11r/3b) were inefficient but piled up the biggest box score numbers for the Bucks, with Antetokounmpo also making James work for his points before fouling out early in the second OT.
Interestingly, that set the stage for Bayless of all people to take on the task of defending James (!?) in the final three minutes, and shockingly it helped the Bucks pull away. Ballsy move, Jason Kidd. Khris Middleton answered James' three to open the second overtime, and Greivis Vasquez buried a huge three to extend the Bucks' lead to 106-102 with 1:53 left. The Bucks then went up by six on two MCW free throws with a minute left, though that didn't prevent some nervous moments late after J.R. Smith's three cut the lead to 108-105 with 27 seconds left. A stop would have given the Cavs another chance to tie, but Monroe came with a huge offensive rebound that allowed the Bucks to dribble out the final few seconds for the win.
While it was easily the Bucks' biggest win of the season, it wasn't exactly pretty to watch down the stretch. The Cavs amped up their defense in the final minutes of regulation and the Bucks struggled to cope, turning it over multiple times and finding few easy looks to stop the bleeding. But they made just enough plays to get by, as Cleveland couldn't seem to get over the hump despite LeBron's heroics.
Overall, the Cavs shot 22 more threes than the Bucks (14/38 vs. 6/16), who didn't have a starter make a three until Middleton's shot in the second OT. But despite plenty of nervous moments down the stretch, the Bucks turned it over just 12 times overall and outscored Cleveland 26-16 off turnovers and 54-38 in the paint. They still lost the rebounding battle 54-51, but the Bucks did manage at least one first: Monroe's clinching board gave the Bucks a 15-14 edge on the offensive boards, the first time all season they've won that category.
- The Bucks were ultimately deserving winners, but their offensive execution down the stretch was often horrendous. Cleveland's perimeter pressure often left the Bucks incapable of even starting their sets, leading to a string of poor entry passes and difficult shots late in the shot clock. Meanwhile, James and the Cavs were getting much easier looks, including a wide open dunk down the middle by LeBron to tie it in the final minute of regulation. Ultimately the difference may have been fatigue, as the Cavs wore down on the second night of a back-to-back while the Bucks were coming off two days rest.
- Jabari Parker collected new season-highs with 12 points (5/10 fg) in 30 minutes, including a couple of MONSTER dunks. He added a beautiful corkscrewing lefty up and under in the fourth and made appearances late in regulation as well as OT -- the first time we've seen him in crunch time.
- This was the first time all season that the Bucks were able to field their preferred starting lineup of MCW, Middleton, Giannis, Jabari and Monroe. They totaled 13 minutes together and registered a +5 differential.
- MCW's return from an ankle injury made an impact on both ends, but particularly on the defensive side. His size allows him to make plays that other point guards simply can't, with his huge block on Mozgov at the rim and his follow-slam to end the first half serving as prime examples. Aside from a couple turnovers and a wild shot in OT, it's difficult to find too much fault with his offense tonight either; he only had four assists but picked his spots pretty well and finished with an efficient 17 points on 12 shots.
- The Bucks ongoing reliance on Bayless for offense continues to worry me, though I won't blame it on Bayless himself. Late in regulation it seemed like he was the only guy on the floor who wasn't scared to be there, which is probably why Kidd settled for a Bayless clear-out on the final possession of regulation.
- The Bucks put energy and size to good use in the first, grabbing eight offensive rebounds (vs. just two for Cleveland) en route to a 23-23 stalemate. Neither team looked particularly crisp, but the Bucks hung tough thanks to the diligence of Giannis, Monroe and John Henson, with the two centers playing together during the latter half of the quarter for the first time this season. Big or otherwise the Bucks didn't have any answers to Love in the first half however, as he managed 15 points.
- Giannis badly missed his first two jumpers, but got on the board with three putbacks in the first half and added a couple jumpers when matched up one-on-one with Love later in the second. Still, he was mostly MIA on the offensive end down the stretch, as the Bucks basically ignored him late in regulation and the two OTs. He made up for it with a big defensive effort against LeBron, but it didn't seem like he even really wanted the ball on the other end. He certainly held his own against the best player on the planet, but a 6/18 shooting night also left plenty to desired.