The Milwaukee Bucks overcame a slow start on both ends of the court to turn a 16-point first half deficit into as much as a 19-point second half lead before beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-102 on Friday night at Fiserv Forum.
The Bucks (13-5) snapped the Cavaliers (12-7) four game winning streak:
Here are some takeaways from the game:
Giannis Antetokounmpo takes over to lead Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo tried to will his team back into the game in a spirited 13-point second quarter that was punctuated with some excellent defense around the rim, but it appeared it wasn’t going to be enough as the Cavaliers continued to find ways to created turnovers and score points in taking a 63-52 lead.
Consecutive Jrue Holiday buckets got the Bucks to within 63-57 but the Bucks didn’t score again for about another three minutes. Then, Antetokounmpo put his foot on the throats of the Cavaliers and exploded.
"Obviously, we've got the big fella in transition," Wesley Matthews said. "It changes things."
8:47: Antetokounmpo corralled a half-court lob from Jevon Carter, rattling it down over Dean Wade to make it 63-59 Cavaliers.7:46-7:39: After pulling down a missed Evan Mobley hook shot, Antetokounmpo streaked down the court and Euro-stepped around Mobley for a thunderous dunk to pull the Bucks within 65-64.7:19: Antetokounmpo walked the ball into the halfcourt and smoothly stepped right into a 26-foot three-pointer to give the Bucks a 67-65 lead.6:49: Grayson Allen stripped Cleveland’s Robin Lopez in the paint and started the break, finding Antetokounmpo flying downcourt, and he Euro-stepped around Wade for another dunk and a 69-65 lead.
"I just tried to make good reads," Antetokounmpo said of that key stretch. "I tried to let my instincts take over and tried to play within the game. There was a lot of gaps that I was able to take and create, make something happen but I wasn't like OK now I'm just going (to) go. I try to go throughout the whole game, 48 minutes.
"I think just the momentum defensively, everybody was moving, everybody was guarding, everybody was rebounding the ball and were able to run and there were so many open gaps for everybody, for me in transition, guys were in the corner ready to shoot, Brook was trailing – it as just clean. We were able to take advantage of that."
That was essentially it for the Cavaliers, as the rest of the Bucks then piled it on from there. Antetokounmpo scored nine points in less than two minutes of game play – the highlight of his 38-point, nine-rebound, six-assist performance.
"It just energizes everybody," Matthews said. "He's able to do that, one, because of who he is but two, because we're getting stops and they can't build a wall. It opens our offense up so much more when teams aren't able to set up against him."
For the game, Antetokounmpo made 13 of his 20 shots, including 2 of 3 from behind the three-point line and 10 of 14 from the free throw line.
Bucks shut down Cavs role players
Cleveland’s all-star backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland both had excellent raw stat lines, with Mitchell scoring 29 points and Garland 20. They even got Holiday and Carter into early foul trouble.
But it took Mitchell 24 shots to get those points, and it took Garland 18.
So not only were the duo inefficient offensively – they ended up being the only offense for Cleveland. Jarrett Allen played just 12 minutes for the Cavaliers, but didn’t return after taking a hard fall after a foul on Antetokounmpo. Evan Mobley scored just 8 points on 2-of-12 shooting. By the time the starters were removed, only Mitchell and Garland had reached double figures.
"We knew those two were the head of the snake," Bucks guard George Hill said. "Even though they might be doing well offensively, we have to shake their hand and let them guys do it. When that team really gets going it's when they're getting to go and the other guys are contributing 10 to 15 points. Making it a 2-on-2 game, trying to tire them out, making them take tough shots and waste a lot of energy doing it and keeping the other guys inefficient is the goal."
Meanwhile, Carter scored 18 points of his own on 6-of-9 shooting and Bobby Portis added 14 points. Holiday had nine points and five assists while Brook Lopez scored eight, as did Grayson Allen.
Has Jordan Nwora maintained a role?
At the start of the season Jordan Nwora said he wanted to earn a spot in the Bucks rotation when everyone is healthy – and not just be a guy who plays when there are injuries. Now that Pat Connaughton is back and Khris Middleton's return is just around the corner, has the third-year guard done enough to stay on the court?
“I think I can play,” he said Friday morning. “Sometimes it’s tough really getting a rhythm. It’s a bit of an inconsistent role. Just trying to do my job, keep the right mindset, stay in the gym, keep working. I’m not the coach – I don’t make the decisions on who plays or who doesn’t play – so at the end of the day he’s going to do what’s best for the team. And hey, if I’m one of those guys that’s out there I’m going to try to do my best to help the team win.”
Nwora is currently eighth on the team in minutes per game (18.5), but he only played about six against Chicago on Wednesday as Connaughton worked his way in after a preseason calf strain. But, if there is an indication of how head coach Mike Budenholzer feels about Nwora’s development and potential place in the rotation, it’s this – rookie MarJon Beauchamp has been getting in practice with the Wisconsin Herd this week and did not play against Chicago.
Nwora played 24 minutes against the Cavaliers, scoring 7 points on 2-of-8 shooting. He also had five rebounds and two assists.
“This is my third season now – every year since I’ve been here this has been a deep team,” Nwora said. “I’ve been on a title contending team every year I’ve been here and it’s no different this year. Especially at our wing position, still being I guess considered one of the younger guys when all of these other guys are back have been in the league a bunch of years.
"It’s just staying ready, keeping the mindset. Talking to MarJon a lot as a guy who’s been there. Just keeping your head, staying in the gym and being ready. Last game played five minutes. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s part of being on a championship team.
"It pays off and hopefully down the line we can win another one but it’s just part of being on a really good team. Really good teams have really good players.”
Like most of the team, Nwora started the year slow offensively. He shot just 29.5% from the field and 29.7% from behind the three-point arc in the first 12 games of the season. But since Nov. 14 he’s been shooting 45.2% overall and 45.5% from deep. More importantly, however, he’s stayed focused on his defensive duties and overall effort without the ball in his hands.
“It’s a great challenge, probably mostly for whoever it is that doesn’t get to play in the games,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the minutes reduction for the back end of the roster. “These guys are competitive. They want to play. And that’s what you want.
"So as coaches and as a staff we’ve go to find ways, if you’re not playing, we call them play groups, the individual work, film work, things like that. And guys have to be professional. I think come to work every day, find ways to get better, find ways to be ready.
"There’s been opportunities if you want to call them that, and they’ve taken advantage of it. If for some reason you’re not playing, you need to be ready for your next opportunity when you do. Hopefully there’s a mindset of always being ready being professional. Whether it’s the young guys or the old guys, that’s kind of the expectation.”
Khris Middleton continues to practice
The Bucks all-star had another practice session with the Wisconsin Herd on Friday, marking his third practice with Milwaukee’s G League affiliate this week.
With an off day on Saturday before facing Dallas on Sunday, the Bucks have another two days off before facing the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30.
“He did get to practice with us a little bit on Sunday, so I think that was helpful,” Budenholzer said earlier in the week. “Then these runs with the Herd are probably most important because they’re longer, they’re more extended, they’re more like game settings.
"I can’t say I watch them all or every minute of them, but I try to get a significant amount. Then listen to the observations and the reports from both the coaching staff and the medical staff. I think we’ve had to do this enough times, and I’m sure every team’s gotta kind of figure out how you’re gonna do it, I would say practicing with the team for a lot or a long time is just not very realistic once you get into the season.”
“I would say I’m extremely hands off. I have a good spot on the wall and I stand and watch and that’s about it. Occasionally I can’t help myself. And I don’t watch every minute of ‘em either. There’s lots of things going on and other things that all of us have to get to, especially on a game day. The assistant coaches and the medical group do, I would say a phenomenal job of organizing, getting the guys ready, getting they prepared, getting them as close to (game speed). It’s hard to create games speed and game action and things like that. I think our group does a really good job of trying their best to do that.”
Did you notice Robin Lopez face-guarding Giannis?
With about a minute left in the first quarter, Cavs center Robin Lopez face-guarded Antetokounmpo and kept him at the half court line for an entire Bucks possession, which resulted in a Carter three-pointer. Earlier, Lopez had followed Antetokounmpo all the way out to the three-point line in the corner and tried to stick with him, but that play resulted in a pair of Antetokounmpo free throws.
"That's never happened to me in basketball ever," Antetokounmpo said of the odd defensive alignment before chuckling a bit. "Back in the day when I was like 16, 17, I was being denied full court I wasn't able to get the ball. But like in my NBA career I've never seen being half court and being denied. I felt like Steph Curry for a second there. It's fun. It's part of basketball.
"I don't know what why he did it. But my teammates took advantage of it. There was no shot blocker so we played four against four. I was surprised. I looked at coach. Then I looked at George (Hill). Then I look at the referee and I was like what the hell is going on over here? It never happened to be before. But my teammates took advantage of it."
3: First half fouls for star point guards Holiday and Garland. Holiday was 0 for 5 from the floor but had four assists while Garland scored 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
5: League-high number of games Brook Lopez has blocked at least five shots. He matched his season-high with six against the Cavaliers.
"Obviously he's a big guy, bigger than a lot of guys in the league, " Bobby Portis said. "Even if he doesn't block the shot he still changes the guy, whoever shot it. He's a big part of our defense. He's really the anchor of the defense and he should be in all the talks for defensive player of the year for real. He's a hell of a defensive guy."
13: Second quarter points in just about six minutes for Antetokounmpo.
"Just trying to get him some easy ones," Hill said of Antetokounmpo's scoring bursts. "He's going against a set defense a lot where guys can load up. So us getting stops kind of helps him get some easy looks and open up some good opportunities for him. Once he leaves you get that momentum and the ball starts hopping and guys play well when there's less pressure."
19-8: First quarter run the Cavaliers went on to stretch a 7-5 lead to 26-13. They led by as many as 16 in the first half.
35-10: Third quarter score in favor of the Bucks, which included a 26-8 stretch that saw them flip a 11-point halftime deficit to a 87-73 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Budenholzer: "It felt like there was an urgency to the way we defended. There was activity, purpose. They were fantastic. Get stops like that, any team is at their best when you can get a lot of stops and try and play against a defense that's not set. So, but really proud of the defense particularly in the third quarter obviously."
Hill: "They were shooting 50% at half or so. We are trying to be one of the best teams defensively in the league and it just wasn't good enough. Their guard were getting a full head of steam and getting some easy looks and we just said we had to turn up the pressure and be better defensively. Starting with Jrue and Jevon starting the third quarter getting up into guys and Giannis getting out in transition after getting some stop and just built some momentum. Once our fans got involved, we just played well from there."
Matthews: "Intensity. Attention to detail. Getting good shots. Playing good on offense. When you put yourself in good spots on offense you give yourself a chance for offensive rebounds. Everybody knows where they're supposed to be, making it easier for transition defense. We were able to turn our energy up, feed off the crowd, feed off of who we are supposed to be and get the stops we needed and fueled our run."
Play of the game is Giannis’ half-court lob dunk from Jevon Carter
The highlight of a 15-2 early second half run for the Bucks was Antetokounmpo finishing a half-court lob from Carter over Dean Wade.
"Just gotta trust. It's trust," Antetokounmpo said of the play. "He's gotta trust me, I gotta trust him. In my position I cannot let him down. If the point guard throw the ball from half court to you, you gotta get it. They cannot force a turnover because he'll lose his trust, he'll not throw it again. I just tried to jump as high as I could and tried to go get it."
Video of the game is Giannis' Eurostep around Evan Mobley
One could argue the lob dunk was the video of the game as well, but this destruction of the Cavs promising second-year player showed just how far Mobley has to go but also put an exclamation point on a incredible third quarter for Antetokounmpo that saw him score nine points in just over two minutes of game play to give the Bucks the lead.
Bucks injury report: Pat Connaughton is out with illness
Jrue Holiday (non-COVID illness), probable
Pat Connaughton (non-COVID illness), out
Serge Ibaka (non-COVID illness), out
Khris Middleton (wrist surgery), out
Joe Ingles (knee surgery), out
Who do the Bucks play next?
The Bucks welcome in former head coach Jason Kidd and the league’s top scorer in Luka Dončić as the Dallas Mavericks head to Fiserv Forum Sunday night at 7 p.m. Despite Dončić’s MVP-caliber play, the Mavericks have been hovering around .500 for the early part of the season.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Giannis Antetokounmpo takes over in second half in Bucks rout