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Bucks vs. Cavs Final Score: Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates the champs, 118-101

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks have had no problem playing up to the level of their competition this season. The getting over the hump part? Yeah, that had been more problematic — at least until LeBron James and the world champs rolled into town.

Playing their most complete game of the season against a Cavs team that started fast but faded faster, the Bucks rode another brilliant performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo to a surprisingly easy 118-101 win in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. A year after dropping a then-career-best 33 in Cleveland, Giannis torched everyone the Cavs threw at him with yet another epic performance — 34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks — as the Bucks erased an early 13-point deficit and ultimately ran away with the game with an 18-2 third quarter run. Our podcast recap:

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Jason Kidd’s bench proved crucial in both helping the Bucks get back in the game early and ultimately putting it away in the second half, with Greg Monroe (14 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block), Michael Beasley (17 points on 10 shots) and Malcolm Brogdon (10 points, three assists) playing key roles throughout. Beasley and Monroe were each a game-high +22 on the night, which seemed fitting given the efforts they gave on both ends (seriously!). Jabari Parker’s struggles continued for much of the first half, but he bounced back with 13 third quarter points as the Bucks turned a 58-54 halftime lead into a comfortable 18-point deficit by the end of the third.

James led the Cavs with a team-high 22 points to go with four rebounds and four assists and Kyrie Irving added 20 points on 12 shots, but the Cavs normally high-powered offense stagnated after a 26-13 start and the Bucks shredded Cleveland’s interior defense with a 68-34 edge in paint points.

Thoughts

  • “Energy” is one of the more regularly abused terms in NBA basketball, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a thing — just watch the third quarter. This clearly wasn’t the Cavs at their sharpest, but the Bucks were nothing short of ravenous in their pursuit of loose balls and lazy passes, getting to seemingly every loose ball on a night where they nabbed 15 steals and limited Cleveland to just seven offensive rebounds.
  • Giannis has now faced off against LeBron, Kevin Durant and Paul George -- and has yet to be outplayed.
  • Giannis, Jabari and Beasley all took turns defending LeBron tonight, and in general it’s tough to quibble with their efforts — or that of the Bucks’ secondary defenders. You’re generally not going to contain LeBron off the dribble unless you bring a second defender, and even if you do that you’re typically going to give up plenty of great looks when LeBron finds his open teammates. But the Bucks’ primary defenders kept him honest for much of the night and Milwaukee’s rotations were just good enough to avoid a completely crazy Cavalier shooting night: Cleveland matched their season average with 14 threes (which is a ton!) but needed 39 attempts, which is four more than their season average. Perhaps most importantly, Cleveland never strung enough of them together to make a big run after their hot start, allowing the Bucks to build their lead in the third and never face a real threat in the final stanza.
  • It looked like Jabari was headed for another forgettable night in the first half, as he seemed just slightly out of rhythm for the second straight game. But a midranger and corner three got him off the schneid late in the first, and the third quarter saw him will his way out his mini-slump with a couple breakout dunks and two hard-earned buckets inside. The last might have been my favorite Jabari bucket of the season — yanking down a one-handed rebound while getting mugged, then rising and finishing for the dunk and foul.
  • We’ve been openly campaigning for Mirza Teletovic to play more, and tonight he played less — actually, not at all. That’s not a trend I’d like to see continue, but Beasley was excellent offensively and deserved his extended minutes, especially given his ability to switch onto LeBron — something Teletovic certainly wouldn’t do.
  • We’ve also been openly campaigning for Monroe to play more, and tonight he did. I’m not sure if he needs to play 26 minutes every night, but his skill level as a passer and scorer gave the Bucks’ offense an early jolt and his defensive energy was a breath of fresh air, especially in the second quarter. He’s never going to have the physical tools to be a defensive anchor, but we’ve seen with increased regularity that he can hold his own when he competes consistently.
  • Jason Terry probably deserved an assist for this, eh?
  • Considering their history, I doubt Giannis was feeling too bad for Mike Dunleavy when he caught him with this probably-maybe-inadvertent-good-luck-proving-otherwise shoulder to jaw:
  • It’s not a party unless Thon Maker is doing stuff in garbage time, and the rookie delivered with an ankle breaking step-back jumper on Chris Andersen in the final minute.
  • The Bucks next face a home-and-home with the Brooklyn Nets, AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS.