On a night when Giannis Antetotkounmpo slithered into the shadows repeatedly on offense, the rotating cast of Bucks’ role players couldn’t bring enough to stop the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 102-95 loss.
Giannis looked passive almost all night, failing to attack isolations, not commanding the ball from a ball-pounding Delly and finishing with just nine points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Malcolm Brogdon looked like the Bucks’ best player tonight, ending at 20 points on a team-high 15 attempts and five assists, with Michael Beasley contributing 11 points before leaving the game with a ghastly knee injury.
For the Cavaliers, Lebron James played after some question about his availability pregame, ending with 24 points, ten rebounds and six assists. Kyrie Irving added 25 points and nine assists and Derrick Williams tallied 14 points and seven rebounds.
Milwaukee hung with the Cavs for the first half tonight, turning the ball over only two times and hitting two more threes than the Cavaliers at that point. However, as the second half unfolded, Cleveland started finding easier shots against Milwaukee to finish shooting 50.0% compared to Milwaukee’s final 44.6% mark. Weirdly, the Bucks actually made and attempted more three-pointers than Cleveland, 11-29 versus 10-27 for Cleveland. However, that mattered little when the Cavs had a 12-point advantage at the free throw line and Milwaukee mustered only two fast break points all game.
Milwaukee fell behind Cleveland early, as Michael Beasley looked like the only Buck willing to attack the Cavalier defense, and the Cavs had a 15-6 lead at the first break after a Richard Jefferson three. Soon after, the game became more watchable both because TNT went away from some art school, experimental, headache-inducing camera work, and because the Bucks started playing competently. Giannis had a slick wraparound post pass for Moose before hitting a runner and dishing to Tony Snell for a transition wing three as the Bucks got it back within three. Malcolm Brogdon subbed in and grabbed four quick points, but a Kyrie Irving buzzer-beater gave the Cavaliers a 27-25 lead after one.
The second quarter opened with Michael Beasley’s one-man show, shimmying against former number two overall pick Derrick Williams like he was a marionette. Beasley scored seven straight for the Bucks, before kicking to Rashad Vaughn for a knockdown triple from the wing. As is the case with any showstopping number though, it must eventually end, and Michael Beasley’s ended bittersweetly as he gruesomely hyperextended his knee and was helped off the court by his teammates and diagnosed with a knee sprain. He didn’t return.
WARNING: graphic— BrewHoop.com (@brewhoop) February 28, 2017
Beasley's injury. pic.twitter.com/WOa6zeQqDS
Malcolm Brogdon stepped into the void, going in for an and-one layup and then shipping an eyes in the back of his head pass to Jason Terry for a wing three as Brogdon penetrated in transition. Milwaukee gave up two easy threes to Kyle Korver as the half wound down, but answered with two of their own from Mirza Teletovic and Tony Snell to make it 52-50 Cleveland at the half.
Michael Beasley (pours one out) led the team with 11 points, with Greg Monroe following up with eight points and Giannis at a quiet four after a somewhat active first quarter. For Cleveland, Kyrie Irving had 11 points with five assists, the aged Richard Jefferson also had 11 and Lebron was at ten points.
Milwaukee shot 43.8% on the half to Cleveland’s 51.8%, but the Cavaliers were merely 3-13 (23.1%) from deep, two of which came in the closing minutes of the half. Milwaukee also tallied zero fast break points due to only one steal on the half, however Cleveland still sloppily turned it over 11 times to the Bucks’ mere two turnovers.
Giannis started the second half with a turnaround near jumper, followed up by two threes from Thon Maker off crosscourt passes from Dellavedova. Delly hurled another crosscourt pass to Brogdon for a corner three, and Milwaukee led 61-54 before Lebron James and Kyrie Irving responded in kind from deep. The Cavs would go on a 13-0 run before a rare, aggressive Giannis hit a free throw to make it a 69-64 deficit. Malcolm Brogdon continued to power the Bucks, with a three-pointer and driving layup to close it out, but a surprise Derrick Williams three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Cavaliers a 77-73 lead.
The night of unsung, peculiar performances continued as Matthew Dellavedova hit a runner that looked more like an off-target oop, and then fed a sling pass from the top of the arc to a waiting Giannis at the hoop. The Cavaliers continued to work the Bucks with pinpoint passes for oops and three-pointers, but John Henson rolled in to convert two quick hook shots and make it 86-83.
Sadly, Henson’s spotlight sputtered to darkness, and he passively pawed at Lebron’s arm on a dunk to force an and-one and skidded to the ground like a sled as Kyrie stuck a three-point jumper above his prone body to make it 94-85 Cavaliers. Milwaukee tried to mount a comeback with a few extra makes in trash time, but ultimately fell 102-95.
TNT was promoting a Player’s Only night tonight, where the studio and telecast featured only players. For some reason, part of that included a zoomed in game camera to start that looked like an NBA 2K camera angle. Not only was it jarring to the point of causing a headache, but it cut off the game action and made it truly one of the worst game watching experiences I’ve ever had. Not to mention the fact they kept shifting cameras to the sideline court view even mid-possession, all of which contributed to a bizarre opening that left my eyes dizzy. They changed the camera angle by the end of the first, and didn’t return to it again.
Michael Beasley just playing with Derrick William’s ego in the second quarter was a marvelous sight. A battle of once-washed up number two picks now working their way back into specified roles ended decidedly with Beasley’s one-sided dominance before leaving the game with his knee strain.
TNT also tried out a three-man booth without a play-by-play man, using Greg Anthony, Rip Hamilton and Kevin McHale to offer their candid thoughts on the two teams and league as a whole. It didn’t work. None of them seemed to provide any meaningful transitions, and the insight they did offer wasn’t particularly illuminating. Not to mention a distinct lack of energy.
Malcolm Brogdon is so savvy. He got a pass in transition with the lane wide open as the Cavs weren’t paying attention, he took three swift dribbles into the lane and as soon as the Cavs collapsed on him he whipped to Jason Terry on the wing for an easy triple. Smart stuff, as always, by Brogdon.
Rashad Vaughn had some decent minutes in the first half. He got a block on an unsuspecting Cavalier beneath the basket from behind and hit a deep three from the wing. Not too shabby. In the third quarter though, he bumbled the ball away to let Derrick Williams hit the three that extended the Cavs’ lead. He redeemed himself a bit after feeding a rolling Henson with a pocket pass in the fourth...wait...*checks play-by-play*...okay just confirming that was an actual play that happened.
After a first quarter in which Giannis had the ball repeatedly, and slowly started filling the box score, he was noticeably absent the rest of the game. Too many times he was on the weak side corner, standing idly. It wouldn’t have been out of line for Jason Kidd to slap his bum and tell him to go get the ball from Delly, Snell or Terry who were timidly ripping the ball through repeatedly like they were running a fourth-grade gym class drill. It continued in the second half, and was exemplified by his final shot, where he pulled up for a three-pointer that fell woefully short. Afterwards, he foolishly grabbed at Lebron James for a steal, only to stumble and have Lebron literally step over him on the way to the free throw line.
However, even on an off night, Giannis’ gravity is becoming more Saturn than Pluto. Late in the third, Kyle Korver got switched onto Giannis on the baseline, and Richard Jefferson creeped towards the duo to the point he was nearly doubling Giannis despite guarding Jason Terry on the perimeter. The Greek Freak noticed the tilt and whipped it to Terry up top for an easy triple.
Michael Beasley will be evaluated further tomorrow, so we won’t have a final diagnosis until then. It’s worth noting that Jabari’s initial diagnosis was also a knee sprain. Beasley had been slotting into the fill-it-up, World Buffet style scoring role in Jabari’s absence. His isolation scoring ability was helpful in a pinch, if harmful when used to exhaustion. If he’s unavailable, Mirza Teletovic would likely get more run for this Bucks team, which should theoretically open up the floor more for Giannis and company. When their offense bogs down though, it’ll be even more on Giannis, Brogdon, Moose and cautiously Middleton to create something when they’re in need.
Giannis played 42 minutes tonight, including the entire second half. This coming on the heels of a game against the Phoenix Suns where the team nearly coughed away a lead late while Giannis remained firmly entrenched on the bench. It feels like either an egregious over-correction or complete lack of awareness. Especially on a night when he’s as uninvolved with the game flow as tonight, it doesn’t seem difficult to take him out towards the end of the third and let Brogdon run a few sets with Monroe and Teletovic out there.
Thon Maker only got nine minutes tonight, and six of those came in the second half where he hit two threes for Milwaukee. Instead, Kidd opted to stick with Henson for most of the fourth quarter. Henson hit some shots, but it’s frustrating to see Thon’s minutes continue to be sacrificed at the altar of John Henson, a depressing place where pointless smiles and useless jump shots are considered deities.