The second time around, the circumstances couldn’t have been more different.
When the Cavaliers visited Milwaukee on November 29, the Bucks outscored them by 34 points in the paint and outrebounded them by eight. Giannis Antetokoumpo was virtually unstoppable as a scorer, equalling his career-high.
The Cavs looked old and slow, the Bucks young and energetic.
The result was an embarrassing 17-point Cavs loss against a young Eastern Conference team on the rise.
On Tuesday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the disparity wasn’t as striking, the pace wasn’t so frenetic, the Bucks’ path to the basket not nearly as clear, even with the Cavs down two starters as they eked out a 114-108 overtime victory.
Antetokoumpo didn’t score until 6:07 remained in the second quarter. Even with Kevin Love back in Cleveland with a stiff knee, the Cavs jumped out to an 18-point second quarter lead. Kyrie Irving came out strong with 10 points and five assists in the first quarter.
But in what could be the dawn of a new rivalry, the Bucks again proved to be a tough matchup for the Cavs, taking them to overtime before the Cavs prevailed.
LeBron James made a 33-foot 3-pointer with 24 seconds left and Jabari Parker missed two free throws with 19.1 remaining, giving the Cavs a 110-108 edge and the ball with 18 seconds left. Irving and James added two free throws apiece, and the Bucks went scoreless the rest of the way.
Had they not escaped with the victory, the Cavs would have been kicking themselves on the flight home after blowing a 100-93 lead with 2:32 remaining in regulation. Greg Monroe’s layup and Tony Snell’s 3-pointer drew the Bucks within two, then Parker tied the game on a driving layup off an Matthew Dellavedova assist.
Irving’s 3-pointer with one second remaining in regulation fell short, as did Antetokoumpo’s last-gasp heave off the inbounds. James finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, Irving added 28 points and five assists and Channing Frye came off the bench to contribute 15 points.
Parker led the Bucks with 30 points and nine rebounds Antetokoumpo added 27 points, 14 rebounds, two steals and three blocked shots. A 6-foot-11 forward in his third season, Antetokoumpo pitched in nine points in the fourth quarter and six more in overtime before fouling out with 28.1 seconds left.
The Bucks were coming off two victories in a back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls and will complete the same with the Cavs on Wednesday night in Cleveland.
James moved into eighth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with a put-back of his offensive rebound with 9:11 left in the first quarter, passing Moses Malone, who totalled 27,409 points.
Starting Richard Jefferson for Love, the Cavs missed Love most in a lackluster second quarter in which they managed just 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting. A stretch during which they were stuck on 49, the Cavs gave up trying to go inside and were hurt by poor shot selection.
Injured in a collision with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. on Saturday, Love is averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. He has scored at least 20 points in his past six games, his longest streak with the Cavs.
The Cavs were also thin on big men without Love and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who tore the ACL in his right knee in practice Friday. Then Tristan Thompson picked up his fourth foul with 7:55 left in the third quarter. The personnel situation worsened when J.R. Smith was forced to sit out the second half with what the Cavs said was a right thumb injury. DeAndre Liggins started the second half for Smith, who contributed six points in the first half. Images of Smith’s thumb were inconclusive after the game.
What concerned Lue most from the last matchup was transition and the Cavs did improve in that area. “When Giannis and Jabari get it off the glass, we have to get back,” Lue said at shootaround. “We can’t complain about calls or missed shots, we’ve got to get back in time, build a wall and make them play against our half-court defense.”