Sometimes all it takes is giving the ball to the other team a whole bunch in a relatively condensed time frame to make victory a tall task — enter the Milwaukee Bucks and their 14 first half turnovers on the way to a 106-114 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That the final score was as close as it ended up being is thanks in very large part to Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 45 points (17-27 from the floor, 11-16 from the FT line) and 14 rebounds. In what would prove to be a through line the rest of the night, Giannis was good for 12 of Milwaukee’s 20 first quarter points, and he looked set to pick right up where he left off dominating in New Orleans on Monday. Matched up against slim defensive dynamo Evan Mobley, Giannis just ran into and past Mobley possession after possession, forcing four fouls from Cavs defenders in the first four minutes. Unfortunately, the night’s other through line saw no other Buck score in the final 7:24 of play in the quarter. Cleveland got production out of everyone sans Caris LeVert and jumped to a 20-35 lead.
Milwaukee’s second quarter was much the same as the first, including eight turnovers coming off a combination of sloppy passing/dribbling, especially from Jrue Holiday. Cleveland started to cool off a little, but still outpaced Milwaukee whose offense continued to stall on the way to a 42-60 halftime deficit.
The third quarter looked like it might herald a change in fortune with MarJon Beauchamp contributing two early made threes and Brook Lopez adding his own. As soon as the offense woke up, though, Cleveland’s star guard Donovan Mitchell answered time and time again on the other end. He’s quite adept attacking defenses and taking/making difficult shot types: Midrange jumpers, floaters in the lane, layups through contact, you name the shot type and he got it to fall as he scored 15 in the frame to keep the Bucks still at arms length, 77-93.
Giannis had one last push in him, and it was in large part thanks to his efforts that a game which looked like a write-off suddenly flirted with being winnable. He scored 16 points on 8-12 from the floor, and by this point the Cavs had moved Jarrett Allen onto him as cover. It didn’t matter; Giannis routinely got to the rim with well-timed bursts of speed, strength to take advantage of great interior positioning, and sheer willpower. Jrue Holiday woke up and added four assists, and Milwaukee miraculously at one point got the deficit down to just five points. Joe Ingles had a chance to get it to three with 28 seconds left:
Jingles Bells, Jingles Bells, Joe Ingles just stuck a wedgie. No. 23 on the season. pic.twitter.com/WgtB7lvEtX— No Dunks (@NoDunksInc) December 22, 2022
Bucks lose 106-114.
Giannis scoffs at your twin tower defense. Cleveland boasts the second best interior defense in the league in terms of opponent points allowed there (45.5 ppg) and that is thanks in large part to the Evan Mobley-Jarrett Allen duo. Both have size, yes, but also length and great athleticism to contest shots from all angles, and they’re helped by swarming secondary defenders as well. No matter. Giannis simply has more sheer strength than Mobley in a one-on-one situation and Giannis was able to regularly beat Allen to his spots throughout the second half. If anyone else had stepped forward to help with the scoring, this would’ve gone down as an all-time Antetokounmpo performance rather than something consigned to the dustbin of loss history.
MarJon Beauchamp continues to contribute. When faced with a desert of scoring, a few MarJon threes felt like stumbling upon an oasis. He routinely finds himself camped out in the corner, and Cleveland felt comfortable leaving him all by himself beyond the three-point line. That he took advantage and actually sunk three threes speaks well to his poise — per Zora Stephenson during the broadcast, Beauchamp’s individual workouts feature a ton of personal work with assistant coach DeMarre Carroll on corner three shooting, and looks to be paying off. MarJon got manipulated into a few easy fouls by the likes of Donovan Mitchell, but I also note that MarJon used his great footwork and recovery speed to even be in position to foul which is noteworthy in itself.
Brook Lopez... Gets nominated here because who the hell else would I even be able to pick? 5-7 from the floor and 2-3 from three got him 14 points on the board, along with six rebounds and five turnovers. In a world where refs are calling travels at a high rate, Brook’s so-so footwork during post touches often found him handing the ball to the Cavs after a whistle. But hey, he normally shouldn’t be asked to do all that much anyhow.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Jrue Holiday gives and Jrue Holiday takes. I wouldn’t say he was doing much that is outside the realm of his usual actions in any other game, nor was Cleveland killing him. He just wasn’t particularly sharp. Once his execution dulled it all went to pieces. Bad passing and dribbling for long stretches and poor finishing resulted in Jrue’s measly 9 points on the night. Ups and downs are typical with Jrue and this happened to be a bad time to have a down game.
- The drop defense has always been susceptible to midrange merchants who are not only happy to take shots from areas we “encourage”, but also have the audacity to make them! Darius Garland made shots he typically wouldn’t (on the season he’s 37.2% on shots taken in the 3-10 foot range — he’s making 52% of shots taken from 10-16 feet from the basket), but Donovan Mitchell is hitting on 52.4% of attempts taken within 3-10 feet of the basket this year. You can live with him hitting from there if you can shut down other options. Last night, the Bucks failed to stymie Allen or Garland (late).
- Jevon Carter filled George Hill’s spot in the rotation with Hill picking up a second DNP-CD, although MarJon got the start instead of the undersized defensive guard. Carter contributed 6 points (2-8 shooting), 4 rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes, but was made ineffective by working himself up over calls that went against him or weren’t made in his favor. That and he still dribbles a whole lot without getting anything from it unless an extremely simple pass is available. A creator for others he is not.
- Pat Connaughton continues to work into form. 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2-3 shooting from three won’t wow, but a plus shooting night is nice. Him guarding Donovan Mitchell occasionally went about as you’d expect, but he isn’t here to be a lockdown individual defender anyways.
- Grayson Allen biffed an open left handed dunk and was unsuccessful on all four of his attempts from inside the arc. It felt like a tall task for him to create enough space to get his paint looks off like usual with a tight Cleveland interior defense. He did make two of this three threes, at least.
- Bobby Portis nabbed a -18 plus/minus in about 19 minutes of play and failed to score much until making two baskets in the third quarter. Wes Matthews saw him be ineffective and raised him by getting a -9 in the three and a half minutes he played.
- Brook Lopez was T’d up in the fourth quarter after presumably mentioning he wasn’t a fan of the referees newest haircut. That or he was frustrated with the calls or non-calls officials were making. He then went on a 4-0 run himself to make up for the point given.
- What does everyone make of Cleveland’s home uniforms? I’m of the opinion that with the league generally straining how aesthetically “loud” their jerseys can get, a simple white set with a nice “CAVS” logo on the front with a nice mix of wine/gold is a breath of fresh air. Compared to our blue monstrosities, they weren’t physically painful to look at.