Evan Mobley's career night helps Cavaliers outlast Bucks, 114-102

CLEVELAND – Cleveland and Milwaukee split its season series with each team holding serve on their home court as the Cavaliers beat the Bucks 114-102 Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Cavaliers improved to 29-19 on the season while the Bucks dropped to 29-17.

The Bucks are now 6-5 on the year when playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed his fifth straight game with left knee soreness. Jrue Holiday led the Bucks with 28 points and 10 assists.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

Cavaliers turn to Evan Mobley, Darius Garland

After a disappointing loss Friday night to, essentially, the Golden State Warriors reserves the Cavaliers bounced back against the Bucks by running their offense through second-year 7-footer Evan Mobley. Mobley came into the game averaging 14.6 points on 10.6 field goal attempts per game and he topped those totals by halftime, when he had 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

Darius Garland scored 10 points in the third quarter – including a run of six straight at one point – but Mobley also had six of his own. The promising big man continued his attack in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his career-high 38 in the closing frame.

Garland then took the baton with a couple of baskets off Bucks turnovers to keep the visitors at arm’s length in the final minutes.

Mobley was aggressive throughout the game, even with Brook Lopez able to patrol the paint for the Bucks, but he also found open space thanks to the dribble-drive penetration of the Cavaliers that forced Lopez to collapse to the rim. Mobley’s 27 shot attempts were a career-high.

Garland finished with 21 points and 10 assists.

Three-point centric Bucks can’t find shots late

Without Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup the last five games, the Bucks have gravitated toward the three-point line for offense.

In the previous four games before Saturday night, the Bucks' three-point numbers were:

  • at Miami: 22 made, 57 attempted

  • at Miami: 19-48

  • vs. Indiana: 23-46

  • vs. Toronto: 19-39

The Bucks continued their barrage from deep against the Cavaliers on Saturday night, and they opened the game making five of their first seven. But there is a feast or famine element to that strategy, and when the Bucks missed seven straight threes from the end of the first quarter until early in the second quarter, their 26-21 lead flipped into a 40-28 deficit.

In the second half the Bucks used a flurry of threes from Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles early in the fourth quarter to take a brief 90-88 lead, and then tie the game again at 95, but in the final 8 minutes, 45 seconds Milwaukee did not make another three.

They finished 14 for 39, but they also couldn’t get too many more of those shots off as they began turning the ball over late as well.

Cavaliers guard Darius Garland loses control of the ball as he attempts to drive between Bucks guard Jrue Holiday and forward Bobby Portis during the second quarter Saturday night.
Cavaliers guard Darius Garland loses control of the ball as he attempts to drive between Bucks guard Jrue Holiday and forward Bobby Portis during the second quarter Saturday night.

Bucks can’t hit magic number vs. Cavs

The Cavaliers came into the weekend with the No. 1 scoring defense in the NBA, allowing just 107.1 points per game. But the Warriors scored 120 on Friday night, which was just the ninth time an opponent reached the 120-point threshold.

In their two victories over the Cavaliers in Milwaukee, the Bucks scored 117 and 113 points, respectively.

Against Cleveland, 110 points scored has been the magic number for opponents – the Cavaliers are just 6-14 in games when giving up at least that many. And four of those wins came in overtime.

In their loss at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Dec. 21, the Bucks scored 106 points.

It looked like Milwaukee might get to that point early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers threw up a stout defense over the final eight minutes of the game. The Bucks scored just seven points in that stretch and had six of their 16 turnovers.

Bucks don’t take advantage of schedule break

Every NBA team has schedule quirks that can strain even the best rosters – like when the Bucks played 13 games in 10 cities over 24 days in December. It was a stretch they started it 4-1 and finished it 1-3. There weren’t many “breaks” in that month for the Bucks, as they played one back-to-back and never had more than a day off or two straight at home – so every “off” day was also a travel day.

But heading into Saturday night’s game, you could say they did catch a break. The Bucks were in Milwaukee for six straight days, and even with a back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday they were coming off three straight off days in which they were able to practice, work on individual skills and generally catch their breath.

While Cleveland is one of the best home teams in the NBA, the Cavaliers played on the second night of a back-to-back and without star guard Donovan Mitchell (28.4 points per game). But, the Cavaliers showed pride after that disappointing loss to Golden State on Friday while the Bucks had a hard time generating consistent offense.

Looking ahead to Monday in Detroit, the Bucks will be playing a Pistons team that will be playing their first game in the United States after losing to Chicago on Thursday in Paris.

Giannis Antetokounmpo misses fifth straight game with knee soreness

Despite practicing Thursday in Milwaukee and participating in a light practice and individual work Friday, the Bucks ruled Antetokounmpo out for the fifth straight game with left knee soreness Saturday afternoon.

"There's still just things he's working on, I think body-wise, to get to that point where; there's a big difference between practicing and playing a game," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. "And I know I've said it pretty much every day – we continue to be confident and feel like this is kind of the things we've managed and dealt with for most of his career. So we'll just continue to take it day-by-day. He's getting good work in, good lifts."

Budenholzer said there is not an additional injury holding Antetokounmpo back from playing, and noted the former MVP has gotten in five-on-five work in the last couple days. The coach added that as of Saturday, there was not a feeling Antetokounmpo would need a practice session with the Wisconsin Herd to return to play.

He has not played since Jan. 11 in Atlanta.

He had gone through his pregame routines Jan. 16 and 17 before games against Indiana and Toronto but did not play.

The 28-year-old missed five straight games from Dec. 15-23 last season while in the league’s health and safety protocol. The last time he missed his many games due to an injury was from April 3-14, 2021 with a left knee sprain.

Antetokounmpo missed three of four games earlier this year with soreness in his left knee from Nov. 5-11. Budenholzer said it's a collaborative decision on whether players are held out or not.

"In our world I think the player has the ultimate, final decision, whether it's Giannis or (rookie) MarJon (Beauchamp), how guys feel and ultimately are they ready to go and things like that," Budenholzer said. "Whether it's our team or any team, the player ultimately, I think, has the greatest feel for where they are and how ready they are. But I think the amount of time they spend with physical therapists, with our PT group, with our strength and conditioning group, with our coaches, (vice president of performance Dr.) Troy (Flanagan) does an amazing job, and Jon Horst and I; there's just a ton of communication and collaboration and together we make decisions."

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Serge Ibaka is away from Bucks as they seek a trade

The Bucks will go forward, formally, with 14 guaranteed contracts on the roster as veteran backup center Serge Ibaka will stay away from the team while general manager Jon Horst attempts to find a destination for the big man.

Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season as Brook Lopez recovered from back surgery and played in 19 games. He re-signed this offseason but has played in just 16 games as Lopez and Bobby Portis have proved to be the two most durable players on the roster. Ibaka appeared in just two games since Nov. 21.

“Jon and Serge and those guys are going to work to find the best solution for Serge and for the organization,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said at shootaround Saturday morning. “Sometimes having clarity just helps everybody, it helps Serge, helps me, helps Jon and we can all continue to go forward and figure out how we’re going to find the best solution.”

Five numbers

5 Season high three-pointers made by Bobby Portis. Portis scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds in the loss.

10 Assists for Holiday, which saw him pass Michael Jordan for No. 49 on the all-time assists list. Holiday’s first assist passed Allen Iverson for sole possession of No. 50 all time.

11 Double-doubles for Holiday in 35 games. He had 12 in 67 games for the Bucks and his career high is 20 in 2012-13 in Philadelphia – the only time he was an all-star.

17-2 / 12-4 / 12-2 Cleveland runs to open the second and third quarters and in the fourth quarter, respectively. The first run gave the Cavaliers the lead and the second one extended a 50-47 halftime lead up to 62-51. The final surge effectively ended the game, breaking a 95-95 tie.

20-5 Cavaliers record at home, best in the Eastern Conference.

Play of the game is Cleveland forcing a Milwaukee shot clock violation in fourth quarter

The Bucks had come back from a couple of double-digit deficits to take a brief fourth quarter lead, but after the Cavaliers took a 97-95 lead with 8:26 to go in the game they turned up the heat defensively. On the ensuing Bucks possession, Brook Lopez was forced into taking a contested step-back three-pointer that missed the rim, resulting in a shot-clock violation for the Bucks. The turnover led to a Cavaliers basket and started a stretch that saw the Bucks turn it over six times and see the game slip away.

Video of the game is Bobby Portis' poster dunk

The Bucks' big man put it down with authority around the Cavaliers' Kevin Love in the second quarter, creating his second poster dunk in as many games.

Milwaukee Bucks injury report

  • Serge Ibaka (not with team), out

  • Khris Middleton (right knee soreness), out

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness), out

Who do the Bucks play next?

Milwaukee heads to the Motor City to play the Detroit Pistons on Monday. The teams last saw one another early in the season when the Bucks won consecutive games in Milwaukee on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 as part of their 9-0 start to the season. The Pistons are once again barreling toward the top of the lottery as one of the worst teams in the league as No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham is out for the season due to injury.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Evan Mobley has career night as Cavs beat Bucks without Giannis