For the second straight game, the Milwaukee Bucks shot 53% from the field. For the second straight game, the Bucks didn't do enough of anything else to win.
Despite a game full of hokey lineups, lax defense and minimal effort on the defensive boards, the Bucks more or less hung with the Cavs until the final minute in Cleveland on Wednesday night, but ultimately...well, weird lineups, bad defense and no rebounds usually catch up with you eventually. Giannis Antetokounmpo was up to his usual tricks with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists to nearly match LeBron James' 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds, but LeBron also had plenty of help from Kevin Love (24p/10r/4a), Kyrie Irving (16p/8r/8a) and Tristan Thompson (13p/10r) in dealing the Bucks their third straight loss, 113-104.
There wasn't much to complain about for the Bucks offensively, as Antetokounmpo spearheaded an efficient effort that featured five guys scoring in double-digits while hitting at least 55% from the field. But there wasn't much to like on the other end, where the Bucks struggled to stop the Cavs inside (52-46 paint points) and allowed 17 offensive rebounds, including four in a 75-second span late in the fourth quarter.
The tone was set fairly early in that regard, as the Cavs had their way with the Bucks defense in the first, shooting 59% and getting anywhere they wanted. But the Bucks kept it close despite spending much of the period settling for jumpers: Giannis stroked an early long two, Jabari Parker followed with two midrangers and a step-back triple, and even Jared Cunningham knocked down a wing three to bring the Bucks back to within 31-25 late in the first.
After letting Monroe play the entire first quarter (why?), Jason Kidd went back to his dual-big lineup to start the second and it actually worked pretty well -- mainly because it wasn't all reserves on the court. Give Middleton plenty of credit; he and John Henson found a P&R rhythm as they linked up on four of Henson's five baskets in the period, underscoring the importance of getting the Bucks' bigs rolling to the rim rather than floating around pointlessly away from the basket. Later, Parker got loose for a fast break dunk and a baseline cut that gave him a team-high dozen in the first half, though that was essentially the end of his contributions for the night -- he completely disappeared in the second half, missing a 20-footer and otherwise failing to score a point or grab a rebound.
Love and Greg Monroe (14 points on 6/9 fg) were the focal points of a back-and-forth start to the third, though Love put the Cavs up for good when stepped outside to hit consecutive threes to make it 74-69 Cavs. Cleveland looked like they might be on their way to running away with it when Kidd put an all-bench lineup on the floor late in the period, but somehow they managed a 9-3 finish to the period to keep it a manageable 91-87 Cavalier lead heading into the fourth.
- Parker (0), Henson (1), Plumlee (1), and Monroe (2) combined for four defensive rebounds in 95 combined minutes tonight. Crazy. Unfortunately Parker's inability to make an impact on the defensive boards has been a regular occurrence, though it's difficult to imagine the other three guys being that ineffective all in the same game.
- After scoring just five points on seven shots on Monday, Jabari got off to a quick start with his jumper and seemed on his way to a nice scoring night at the half. But he was barely noticeable in the second half as the Bucks' starting offense seemed to consist almost exclusively of Monroe and Giannis. I'm not sure I "blame" Monroe per se, but it's obvious Parker is going to be more active playing with a center other than Monroe.
- Giannis handled the ball extensively throughout, but he played off-ball for a few minutes in the second quarter as Middleton became the primary playmaker. He returned to more of a focal role in the second half, scoring eight points on 4/5 shooting in the fourth quarter including a pair of strong drives with lefty finishes. On the downside: with 44 seconds left and the Bucks trailing by six, he got overly excited about a post mismatch against Irving and shuffled his feet before getting into his move. Still, he just put up 24/6/6 and none of us are even batting an eye anymore.
- Normally Middleton starts to force midrange/off-the-dribble looks when he isn't getting shots, but tonight he simply passed instead. The result: 11 assists, two turnovers, and just nine points on 3/7 shooting.
- I get that Kidd is experimenting/"looking at guys for next year"/not caring as much about wins and losses, but the Bucks' big man rotations continue to make me scratch my head. Putting aside for a moment their baffling inability to rebound, Plumlee and Henson haven't been bad together, especially when they're playing with Giannis/Middleton -- and Henson has his 10-12 foot hook shot game working as he did tonight (12 pts, 5/9 fg). Still, it feels like Henson's defensive abilities are being wasted trying to cover perimeter big men (Channing Frye, Love, etc) who keep him away from the paint where he's most effective.
- Meanwhile, Monroe is going it alone with the starters, which tonight meant conceding tons of easy buckets at the rim. I'm really not a fan of two-big lineups in general, but if you have to do it in order to get them minutes, wouldn't you at least want to try to see if Henson or Plumlee could help next to Monroe rather than always playing the two rim-rolling shot-blockers together? As it stands it feels like the worst of both worlds, especially given the amount of overlap between the defensively-challenged Parker and Monroe.
- Speaking of bench guys and defense, I love watching Damien Inglis play on-ball defense.
- Playing his third game in a Buck uniform, Jared Cunningham had seven points on 2/6 shooting in 11 minutes against his former team. He buried an early three but also bricked another deep, which marks the third time in three games he's failed to draw iron on a three point attempt. He's athletic and no one would question his attacking mindset, but if the Bucks are going to give real minutes to a wildly ineffective shooting guard it might as well be Rashad Vaughn, right?
- The Bucks figure to pick no worse than their current 11th slot in the lottery, but they have a semi-realistic shot at moving up as high as 8th. The Nuggets and Magic are a half game ahead/behind in the 9th/10th slots and the Knicks are just a game up in 8th. I don't think the Bucks can out-lose Kurt Rambis, but the Nuggets and Magic might be a different story.