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Milwaukee vs. Cleveland: Bucks Die By The Sword

A great opening quarter was annihilated by the Cavs’ long-range artillery

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Following an all-too-familiar script from this month, the Bucks couldn’t sustain a promising start and got blitzed by the Cavs last night to the tune of a 115-99 final, losing the Super Bowl. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 26 points on 7/13 shooting with 11/12 at the line, Bobby Portis scored 22, and Khris Middleton pitched in 21. Cleveland got massive contributions off the bench from Kevin Love’s team-high 25 and Cedi Osman’s 23. Those two combined to hit 11 of their 23 three-point attempts, nearly entirely responsible for the Cavs’ scorching 19/42 (45.2%) performance from deep.

You might find this hard to believe, but this game started off pretty suspiciously for the Bucks. Aided by some fancy ball movement and sharp passing, they shot 73.7% in the first quarter, going 14/19 from the floor and hitting 6/9 from three on the way to a 35-26 lead after one. Even more surprising is that Giannis didn’t record his first points until the 2:21 mark to put Milwaukee up 12.

That 9 point lead immediately shrank to 3 thanks to a 8-0 Cavs run, fueled by second-chance opportunities and turnovers. Milwaukee’s outside shooting went glacial as Cleveland’s went volcanic, and the home team snatched away the lead at the 6:35 mark with a Love trey coming off the Bucks’ 10th turnover. Yes, 10 turnovers in not even a quarter and a half. On the strength of a whopping 39-22 second, the Cavs took a 65-57 advantage into the locker room.

If you thought yesterday evening was the night the Bucks finally nipped their third-quarter woes in the bud after such a bad second (like I did), well... they didn’t. A Giannis dunk cut the deficit to 6 as the second half began, but a tough pull-up J by Dean Wade of all people sparked a lightning-quick 11-0 Cleveland run in just 1 minute and 11 seconds. Milwaukee hardly made a dent in that 17-point lead, which grew to 21 near the period’s end as the Cavs kept burying triples and the Bucks kept bricking them. Ahead 95-77 entering the fourth, Cleveland kept coasting and Milwaukee missed all 7 of its attempts from downtown, maintaining a lead of at least 14 as Mike Budenholzer pulled his regulars and the Cavs put the finishing touches on a 16-point victory.

Three Bucks

At least Giannis had an encouraging night? We saw him struggle a bit with the Cavs’ gigantic frontcourt in these teams’ first meeting back in early December, and he’s long had issues with Jarrett Allen, their terrific young center (he’s only 23 but it feels like he’s been around much longer). Last night, Giannis did his level best to get Milwaukee back into the game in the third by charging into the paint and racking up free throws. He shot just 2/3 in that quarter but was 7/8 at the charity stripe on the way to a very efficient evening, with nearly as many free throw attempts as field-goal attempts. He’s now shooting 72% at the line on the season. Unfortunately, he led the Bucks with 7 turnovers.

Hi Mrs. Holiday. Is Jrue there? No? You don’t know where he is? While he picked up 7 assists and 9 boards, Holiday was 0/7 after making his first two shots, finishing with just those 4 points. He was passing up open shots left and right in favor of dishing to teammates who may have been a teensy bit more open, but weren’t hitting the broad side of a barn. As a team, I thought the Bucks got way too passive beginning in the second quarter by not taking the clean looks the Cavs gave them, and I thought no one exemplified that more than Holiday. After missing two weeks with ankle issues and being in the protocols, I think Holiday’s All-Star chances may sadly be gone with his uneven performances since returning one week ago. My bad.

Donte DiVincenzo couldn’t build off his nice weekend. He’d finish 4/11 for 9 points and while he went a decent 3/6 inside the arc with two lay-ins and a floater, he kept fruitlessly driving into the teeth of Cleveland’s redwood forest interior defense. There he’d turn the ball over 4 times and get stonewalled multiple times by Allen and Evan Mobley.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Cleveland only connected on 1 of their first 5 shots from beyond the arc, then proceeded to hit 18 of their next 32. Remember how I said Milwaukee sank 6 of their first 9 threes? They went 3/23 thereafter.
  • The Bucks held opponents under their season 3P% in 7 of their last 9 games, so some mean-regression was probably due, and how!
  • Pat Connaughton started in the suspended Grayson Allen’s place admirably with 11 points on 4/7 shooting.
  • Portis got T’d up in the last minute of the first half by barking at a ref immediately after a fastbreak dunk. It did kind of look like he had to finish through some contact and expressed his displeasure to the nearest ref on the baseline with a certain four-letter word, captured perfectly by the Bally Sports cameras.
  • Milwaukee’s offensive output by quarter: 35, 22, 20, 22. This harkens back to the loss against Toronto, where Milwaukee also had a 9 point lead after one and went on to score 20 points in back-to-back quarters. Milwaukee’s quarterly totals on Friday against the Bulls were similar: 24-21-23-26.
  • It’s now been three weeks since the Bucks last won a third quarter, which last occurred on January 7th against Brooklyn. That’s 9 straight games. In that timespan, opponents have outscored them 299-236, an average of 7.9 points per game.
  • In the rapid recap, Adam noted the Cavs scored 31 points off the Bucks’ 19 turnovers, outdoing them by 18 points despite coughing the ball up 13 times themselves. 31 points off turnovers is a season-high by a Milwaukee opponent. It’s worth noting that 12 were unforced and the same number were of the live-ball variety, so you can blame bad fundamentals.
  • Second-chance points were an issue at times too, like early in the second quarter when Cleveland made its first move. The final numbers there were 19-10 in favor of the Cavs, but their shooting numbers on such opportunities were 7/10 versus 4/11, thanks to some back-breaking treys by Love or Osman and putbacks by Allen or Mobley.
  • While rim protection wasn’t a real problem last night—Milwaukee outscored Cleveland 46-32 in the paint—the Cavs are just so much more humongous than this Bucks team right now. With only two legitimate big man options in the frontcourt right now, the Bucks’ options were more limited than usual for interior scoring once they went cold from three-point land. All too frequently, Holiday and DiVincenzo found themselves down low surrounded by two or three huge Cavs who all had a good 6 inches on them. Even Middleton got outsized at times. This happened on both ends: Bud had little recourse but to go small, and the Bucks quartet of guards in the 6’3”–6’5” range got bodied beneath the rim over and over. Plus, they were outmatched on the offensive glass 12-10.
  • With Love and Osman sinking 9 of their first 16 threes and 5 of 9 inside the three-point line for good measure, Cleveland’s bench had outscored Milwaukee’s 40-9 (20 each for Love and Osman) through three quarters. That figure ended the night at 57-15.
  • Darius Garland might have usurped Holiday for a spot on the East’s All-Star team after the latter lost his grasp in recent weeks. He exited at one point, favoring his lower back after landing a bit hard on one leg, but returned to finish with 19 points on 7/12 shooting and 8 dimes. After a stinky rookie year, he’s developed into quite the floor general and I think Cleveland would be wise to install him as their long-term point guard and trade Collin Sexton (who’s out for the year following meniscus surgery) for an upgrade on the wing.
  • Thanasis Antetkounmpo and Semi Ojeleye each made their first appearances since January 13th in garbage time last night. They both finished a team-high -2! Both played two minutes.
  • Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve gotten pretty tired of the Bucks’ City jerseys this year. They’re a lot better than the majority of other teams’ this year with the bizarre “mixtape” theme (looking at you, Miami Ransom Notes), but I feel like we’ve seen them more than their regular set. I love the white with Bucks lettering and the green with Milwaukee lettering even more; if you ask me, it’s one of the league’s best looks. These aren’t as aesthetically pleasing with their mishmash of colors, logos, and other branding from years gone by.
  • I’m not one to give players’ nicknames: I feel that NBA people on Twitter and sites like ours have given out some truly awful ones in recent years (see the Celtics’ Robert Williams). However, if I was the type to do such things, I’d call Dean Wade “Double Take” since I do one every time I hear his name spoken aloud. I don’t always hear that N.

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