Thanks to a gargantuan third quarter, the Bucks took it to the Cavs on Friday night at Fiserv Forum for their second victory over Cleveland in nine days. Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in a game-high 38, while Donovan Mitchell was the high man for the visitors with 29.
The Bucks came in pretty lifeless offensively, struggling with Cleveland’s length in the paint even after Jarrett Allen exited early with two quick fouls. Giannis found himself at the charity stripe a whopping eight times before the quarter ended, but the Bucks were still behind 30-25 after the first, though Jevon Carter tightened that up with a buzzer-beating triple.
Those fortunes at the foul line flipped quickly. In barely four minutes of action in the second, the Bucks were over the limit, and the Cavs stretched their lead to 16 as Giannis sat. Jrue Holiday picked up three whistles in just over three minutes, and Carter followed with his third a few minutes later. While Giannis did his level best to close the margin with 13 points in under six minutes, Cleveland led 63-52 going into the locker room.
Whatever was said in the locker room at half, it powered the Bucks to a 12-2 run to start the third, capped off by a thunderous Giannis dunk after euro-stepping through the lane and cutting the Cavalier lead to one. Giannis then buried a three to give Milwaukee its first lead and followed it up with a fast-break dunk. Cleveland’s six third-quarter turnovers helped extend the run to 23-2 even once Giannis got a breather, and Milwaukee found themselves up 14 at the end of three, outscoring Cleveland 35-10 in the period.
That lead grew to 19 early in the fourth before the Cavs remembered how to score points again and cut it to 12. However, Giannis cashed in a corner three around the fourth’s midpoint, and the Bucks started putting this one on ice as J.B. Bickerstaff emptied his bench with three minutes left. Milwaukee improves to 13-5 as they look ahead to Luka Doncic and the Mavs on Sunday.
Giannis apparently didn’t get his fill of stuffing yesterday. As mentioned, Giannis went for 38 on a ridiculous 13/20 shooting, even hitting two from downtown. The key to that efficiency was obviously hitting 10 of his 14 free throws, none of which he missed short as he seemed to follow the same routine. While Evan Mobley is certainly a talented defender, he lacks sufficient strength and even footspeed to deal with The Greek Freak, and the Cavs sophomore was thoroughly flummoxed by Giannis on the other end.
Jevon Carter’s two-way impact could not be understated last night. After one half, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell combined for 38 points on 14/26 shooting, getting the Bucks’ starting backcourt in foul trouble along the way. Jrue Holiday obviously deserves credit here too, but in the second half, those two scored just 11 on 4/16 shooting as Carter kept up the intensity and came up with multiple turnovers. Not to be outdone, he shot 5/6 from deep, including some big ones in the second half.
Coach Mike Budenholzer seemed to reset the problems that plagued the Bucks on Wednesday against the Bulls. An easy number to point to is Milwaukee’s three-point defense, where they allowed 33 attempts from outside after conceding 42 to Chicago. Moreover, he seemed to make both in-game and at-half adjustments to defending Cleveland’s backcourt, which also helped stem the foul trouble Milwaukee’s guards dealt with early.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Pat Connaughton and Serge Ibaka were late scratches with non-COVID illnesses. Holiday was listed as probable with the same malady, but played 23 minutes.
- Not two minutes into the game, Cavs center Jarrett Allen went down hard on his rear after fouling Giannis beneath the rim. Though he returned for another six minutes before half, he exited four minutes into the third and did not return with a hip injury. No doubt a major turning point in the game, though both Portis and Giannis downplayed his exit’s significance in the press conference:
- The Bucks turned the ball over 8 times in the first half leading to 14 points, while the Cavs turned it over just twice. In the second half, the Bucks cut that number to five while the Cavs coughed it up seven times.
- Sandro Mamukelashvili received some rare rotation minutes in the first half. Aside from a nifty spin move that helped earn him a trip to the line, he didn’t appear again until garbage time.
- Brook Lopez didn’t attempt a three-point shot until the early third quarter, but it was a big one that cut the Bucks’ deficit to three. He finished with eight on 3/3 shooting, including another trey, but the bigger story was his six blocked shots.
- As things were really starting to get away in the third, we saw a take foul by Mitchell on Carter after the pesky Buck robbed the Cavs star of the ball. Carter made the free throw.
- Robin Lopez committed a flagrant-1 on Jordan Nwora at the very end of that quarter while Nwora drove to the tin for a lay-in. He hit the and-one while also making the flagrant “two to make one” free throw. The lesser Lopez (sorry Robin, we’ve been Team Brook since you left) had a bit of a rough time in 19 minutes, his most extensive action of the season. He and his twin had a few fun battles down low, but Brook came out ahead in my final tally.
- Cleveland’s Lopez also spent multiple possessions “guarding” Giannis by literally holding him back from crossing midcourt, turning the game into 4-on-4. Giannis was as mystified as we all were by this, stating that he’d never been defended this way.
- As the refs were sorting out that foul via replay, Thanasis was seemingly about to be subbed in, even pumping up the crowd from the scorer’s table before entering. Bud pulled him back not once, but twice! He sent him back pretty forcefully the second time, which drew some facetious boos from the crowd. Our guy finally got in there for the last three minutes of regulation.
- I don’t exactly know what happened here with Mitchell and Mobley, but it was hilarious: