After a game that flowed miraculously similar to last night’s electric affair for the majority of three quarters, this one went off down the stretch like a damp firework, as Cleveland buried Milwaukee early in fourth to cement a 113-102 victory.
Milwaukee struggled initially in the first for the second game in a row, battling back to make it a mere five-point game at halftime off 39 combined points from Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Cleveland turned their dalliance from deep in the first half into a full-blown marriage in the second, hitting nine three-pointers to shut down a team that just couldn’t get their offense flowing in the latter periods.
Giannis again made his living at the line tonight, posting 28 points on just seven shots, going 13-14 from the free throw line in addition to five rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Jabari managed 27 points, including 4-5 from the three-point line, but the only other Buck in double digits was Malcolm Brogdon with 11 points, five boards, seven assists and three steals. Thon Maker got into the action in garbage time, with eight minutes, three points, three boards and two blocks.
Kyrie cooked the Bucks’ guards all night, getting 31 points, 13 assists and six rebounds to pair with Lebron’s 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Cleveland shot 49% on the night, with Milwaukee at a decent 47%, but the Cav’s 15-27 (56%) from three proved too much to overcome. Milwaukee got its points in transition with a 20-5 edge in fast break points, but Cleveland had far more success down low tonight outscoring the Bucks in the paint 48-44. For some perspective, Cleveland lost that battle the night prior, 54-28.
Jabari starred early for the Bucks, picking up for a passive Giannis first quarter for the second night in a row. Parker scored the Bucks first seven points of the game, but Cleveland maintained a 15-9 lead early off Tristan Thompson’s force of will dominance on the offensive boards. Cleveland lurched ahead, but Malcolm Brogdon deflected a Kyrie Irving pass and dished to Jabari for a slam to trail 24-17. Giannis finally got on the board with two free throws shortly afterwards, and after a Shumpert three put Cleveland ahead by 12, Giannis answered with an and-one to end the period at a 31-22 Cleveland advantage. Parker finished with 11 to lead the Bucks and Kyrie matched with 11 of his own.
Giannis hit two free throws to start the second, but Cleveland’s three-point machine fired back. An early Iman Shumpert three extended Cleveland’s lead to ten, and Lebron hit back-to-back-to-okay-you-get-the-drill from deep to put Cleveland up 51-35 around the midway point of the second. Giannis and Jabari answered with their own run, scoring the Bucks next 17 points to cut the lead to 56-52, with Parker bulldozing his way to the basket and Giannis apparating beneath the hoop to flip in easy layups. In what was a half eerily reminiscent of the previous night’s affair, the Bucks went in only down 59-54.
Giannis had 20 points on only five shots, going 10-10 from the line with Jabari chipping in 19 on 8-13 shooting. Lebron had 18 for Cleveland and Kyrie posted 17, as their team shot 55% compared to Milwaukee’s 47%. Milwaukee maximized their possessions, with only three turnovers on the half to Cleveland’s seven.
The third opened with a Giannis jumper keeping the lead at five, 61-56, but Kyrie responded with a personal 7-0 run of his own as Cleveland pulled ahead 69-57. Milwaukee slugged right back with their own 9-0 run, but Cleveland’s three-point gunners started firing again in the final minutes of the third. Milwaukee got the lead down to 72-69 on a Jabari Parker corner three, but Cleveland answered back with Jefferson and Lebron threes to put it at 82-71. Giannis nailed his own from deep, but Jordan McRae of all people hit a three, and after Kyrie got an and-one to finish the stanza, Cleveland led 92-77.
And the three-point bonanza continued in the fourth, with Channing Frye and Mike Dunleavy sinking two easy ones. After a Jordan McRae layup put Cleveland up 102-81, the Bucks, seemingly waved the white flag. However, that white flag looked oh so briefly like a trump card, as the impossible to conceive Brogdon-Vaughn-Telly-Plumlee-Thon Maker lineup actually got the Bucks within 13 at 102-89 after a Vaughn three-pointer.
The excitement petered out though after, yep, you guessed it, a three-pointer and jumper from Channing Frye made it 107-89. Cleveland kept Lebron and Kyrie on the court for most of the closing period, and Milwaukee never found its way back into the game. Thon did manage to slam a dunk home and get two blocks down the stretch. Cleveland finished Milwaukee off gracefully, 113-102.
- Kevin Love sat again tonight. Michael Beasley also missed his fourth straight game with sprained foot.
- This was Delly’s first game back in Cleveland since he joined Milwaukee this summer. He received his championship ring during a pregame ceremony and was mobbed by his Cavalier teammates.
- Giannis attempted 14 free throw attempts tonight. His 15 attempts last night were a career high. He’s 26-29 (89.7%) from the stripe in the last two games.
- Thon Maker got into a scrum with Richard Jefferson after they swung each other down to the court vying for a rebound late in the fourth. The horseplay calmed down quickly but Richard Jefferson was assessed a Technical. After arguing with the refs, he was promptly escorted from the court.
- Rashad Vaughn dunked...? Hold on, let me check that...he did! Rashad Vaughn dunked! We’re still searching for the video evidence to confirm.
- The Buck with the best +/- tonight: Thon Maker at plus-10!
- Rashad Vaughn came into the game early for Tony Snell at the 7:58 mark of the first quarter. His first shot was a drive and leaning pull-up against Jefferson near the elbow. Unfortunately, it was an air ball, but it didn’t sap him of confidence! A few minutes later he actually tried for a dunk over Tristan Thompson. I don’t know if that necessarily takes onions, but it’s probably something close to that...green onions!
- The Vaughn sub was the first of a few, intriguing, substitution decisions by Kidd tonight, presumably to preserve bodies on the back-to-back. Plumlee showed up early in the second quarter, and beyond flashing a stunned expression when he actually got passed the ball, he was relatively invisible until he nailed a hook shot with some extended run in the fourth.
- It was a rough night for John Henson. He got killed by Thompson on the glass early, blew alley-oop opportunities, traveled and threw up some structurally questionable bricks. One hook shot in the third quarter against Lebron was particularly unseemly. If there was ever a chance a jump shot could be rifled at the backboard hard enough to break it, this was it. He did have a dope two handed bounce pass through the lane to a cutting Parker to open the game though.
- Giannis had a bad miss from three early, and didn’t take another jump shot until 6:30 of the second quarter. He shrugged off the slow start though, and hurled himself at the rim to finish with 20 in the first half.
- There was a decent amount of blown opportunities at the rim tonight, leading to frequent lamenting about the Bucks’ bigs inability to finish off assists for their teammates. That speaks more to the weaknesses of the two guys they’ve decided to run with for now, as their best rim-rolling finisher is currently trying to figure out if his new contract will mean he can afford to change his hair back to last year’s pristine, quaffed ‘do.
- The bench lineup of Brogdon-Vaughn-Teletovic-Plumlee-Thon actually led the Bucks back for a hot minute to get them within 13 in the final period. They quickly buckled, but we nearly had the greatest test yet of Kidd’s propensity to leave lineups in down the stretch that are working.
- Lebron James and Kyrie Irving were still in the game with the Bucks’ five-man white flag lineup in and the Cavaliers up by 17. That says all you need to know about what the Cavaliers thought about wanting to win this game.