clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bucks vs. Cavaliers: Cleveland rocks, and then some

Without Giannis, the Bucks were crushed and handed their worst defeat of the season

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Down Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks got utterly annihilated by the Cavs last night, being completely wrecked in a wire-to-wire 135-95 beatdown that represented Cleveland’s sixth straight victory. You read that right: 135-95. Frequent Bucks tormenter Georges Niang somehow topped all his previous big outings as a Sixer with a game-high 33 points, missing only one shot. Damian Lillard led the Bucks with 17 on an inefficient 20 shots.

Game Summary

Giannis was an afternoon scratch due to his right shoulder contusion, so Andre Jackson Jr. assumed his spot in the starting lineup. Portending what would lay ahead, Milwaukee got off to a terrible 1/13 start from the field as Cleveland opened up to an early 22-2 lead, including an 11-0 between Adrian Griffin’s first and second timeouts. However, the Bucks stopped trying to draw fouls and focused on actually making some shots, embarking on a 15-6 run in the closing minutes of the period to trail a manageable 32-22 after one.

Cleveland grabbed the momentum back immediately to begin the second with a 12-2 run. They didn’t let the pendulum swing one iota behind red-hot shooting from Niang as their advantage grew to as big as 25, carrying a 66-41 advantage into intermission. Milwaukee shot just 32% in the first half, with only 19 points in the second, with Khris Middleton and Damian Lillard going a combined 4/21.

The Bucks’ deficit swelled to a whopping 42 points in the third as human white flags Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Chris Livingston entered at not even the halfway point of the quarter. Milwaukee’s percentages barely moved while Cleveland’s stayed white hot. It was 108-67 Cavs through three.

47—yes, forty-seven—was the height of Cleveland’s lead as the fourth was just a formality. Both teams emptied their benches and we even saw Robin Lopez get several minutes as the Cavs put the finishing touches on an absolute steamrolling.

Milwaukee will lick its wounds and hope for a better result on Saturday afternoon as they take on a hapless Pistons squad in Detroit.

What Did We Learn?

Yes, Giannis was out, but losing by 40—to a good team missing both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley—while still featuring Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton means we can’t pin Milwaukee’s struggles solely on their star’s absence. What was the biggest problem? Pointing to a 74-42 Cleveland edge in paint scoring is a fair one, but there’s a worse one. Right away, the Cavs executed a common game plan to jump ahead early on these Bucks: leaking out after a Milwaukee miss—or make—for easy transition opportunities.

To be fair to Griffin and this year’s squad, we saw opponents employ this a lot against the Bucks last year too, but never to the degree we’ve seen at times this season. And they’d actually been much better in transition lately: the Bucks only allowed a combined 49 fast-break points over their last five games, outscoring the opponent in each. Those problems reared their ugly heads again in this one, though. Over and over in the early stages last night, the Cavs launched the ball upcourt to someone streaking a Bucks defender who let his man slip behind him. This resulted in a 13-2 split in terms of fast-break scoring for Cleveland in the first quarter, a figure that grew to 22-2 at the half and a ridiculous 33-8 at the final horn. These are the same problems we’ve seen all year, and they don’t appear to be abating at all.

Three Bucks Bricks

Khris Middleton had a stinker.

Don’t get it twisted: Middleton has had many good games in January. This just wasn’t one of them. He got off to an 0/9 start from the field, going scoreless until around the 7:20 mark of the third. His final line was just two points on ten shots, with two rebounds, two dimes, three turnovers, three fouls, and a team-worst -40 in twenty minutes (no typos). Forget this one, Khash.

Damian Lillard had a stinker.

A few days after his electrifying game-winner, Lillard had no chance at Dame Time in part due to his early struggles. Though he did finish the game by hitting three of his last five attempts, he missed ten of his eleven before that. Forget this one, Dame.

Malik Beasley had a stinker.

Beasley had been on a tear lately, shooting a sizzling 53.5% and 54.8% from three in his past four contests, averaging 16.8 PPG during that stretch, part of a great first half of January. He crashed down to earth with a 1/6 outing with just one bucket: the layup that started the scoring for Milwaukee in the opening minutes. As Michael mentioned in the rapid, these three were primary reasons why the starting lineup managed just 38 points on 17/47 from the field (shout out to Brook Lopez and AJax for going a combined 8/11 with 11 and 17, respectively).

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Before the game, Griffin explained why Giannis sat out and expressed confidence that Giannis won’t miss multiple games:
  • This felt a bit like the hens coming home to roost after three somewhat pyrrhic Bucks victories that belied the issues they’d been experiencing when they lost five of eight over the calendar flipping into 2024. Boston was exhausted on a SEGABABA that went to OT the night before, had four starters over 40 minutes, and lacked Al Horford, so the 135-102 win was a bit misrepresentative. Milwaukee struggled for three-plus quarters with a Steph Curry-less, struggling Golden State team, then needed a miracle Dame buzzer-beater to beat Sacramento on Sunday. They were due for some regression, and man, did they regress.
  • Not to bury the lede here, but Georges Niang is a certified Buck Killer, now in the same class as the likes of Norman Powell and T.J. McConnell. In his two seasons with Philly, he hung a couple of big outings each year on Milwaukee (I dug into the annals and even found one from his Utah days), but never to this degree. He hit his first TEN shots, including four triples, good for 20 first-half points. He didn’t miss until the eight-minute mark of the fourth, then picked up right where he left off, ending up with a new career high: 33 points on 13/14 shooting (5/6 from deep). Again, no typos. For his career, his shooting averages in fifteen matchups with the Bucks are now .575/.484/.700, and he raised his scoring average last night from 7.6 to 9.2 PPG.
  • No one from the bench was worse than -12 (MarJon Beauchamp, who was scoreless in 23 minutes). Cam Payne (13 points on 5/9 shooting) and Bobby Portis (16 on 6/11) looked alright at least.
  • The starters all ranged between -26 (Dame and AJax) and -40 (Middleton).
  • Jae Crowder made his long-awaited return from adductor surgery, logging nineteen minutes in his first action since November 11th. He ended up with 15 points, one board, and one steal on 5/13 shooting (4/10 from downtown), with the bulk of those stats coming in the fourth quarter, when he played all twelve minutes. During that garbage time, he was 4/9 for 13 points, including all of his threes. He was a reasonable -3!
  • Old friend and NBA champion Sam Merrill had 10 points on 4/8 shooting in 22 minutes, hitting both of his shots inside the arc, which came at the rim. Nice to see him succeeding with the rotation spot granted to him in December due to Cleveland’s many injuries.
  • Last and certainly not least, on behalf of Brew Hoop, allow me to express my sincere condolences to the wife, two children, extended family, friends, and colleagues of Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojevic, who tragically passed away today at the age of 46 following a heart attack at a team dinner. Good thoughts to all affected by this awful, awful news.

Support our site! | BreakingT | ESPN+ | ESPN+ 30 For 30 | fuboTV | Disney+