Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 112-104 road loss to the Bucks on Tuesday.
1. As usual, the Cavs proved they are gonna make you work for it. Defending NBA champions in their own building or not.
2. This was basically the story of too much Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP returned after a two-game absence and simply took over when the Bucks needed him most. That’s nothing new. It happens to a lot of teams.
3. So again, the Cavs hung tough. It’s just awful difficult to win these games on the road against an opponent that is coming off a title. Milwaukee has been in these types of battles before. For the Cavs (13-12), it’s all sort of cool, but also pretty new.
4. Turns out that Antetokounmpo went for 27 points on his 27th birthday. He scored 15 of those in the crucial fourth quarter. He made all three of his 3-pointers and snared 12 rebounds. This is why the man makes the big (ahem) bucks.
5. As for the Cavs, they just sort of hung around after the Bucks broke open a 29-all tie with a 7-0 run early in the second quarter. Cleveland never led again — but it wouldn’t go away, either.
6. That second part has been the theme of what remains an inspiring early season.
7. Despite trailing by as many as 13 points, the Cavs battled back, just as they always do. Midway through the fourth quarter, they trailed by just two. Cedi Osman missed a three that would have given them the lead with 6:14 left.
8. The Bucks (16-9) quickly increased their advantage to five, and never led by less than that the rest of the way. In games like this, all you really want is a chance. For most of the night, the Cavs gave themselves one.
9. Jarrett Allen was again fantastic with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Lauri Markkanen (20 points) and Kevin Love (15) each bounced back after rough outings on Sunday. Evan Mobley added 12 points and Darius Garland scored 10.
10. It’s games like this that I find myself wondering what the Cavs might have done with a healthy Collin Sexton.
11. Allen to reporters on the effort: “We’re going to fight till the end. That’s the main thing I learned about this team, about the guys. No matter how we start the game, no matter who’s in front of us, big or small, we’re going to go out there and fight till the end.”
12. The Cavs gave a similar effort in Sunday’s loss to the Jazz. They didn’t play their absolute best against a quality opponent, yet had that quality opponent feeling a bit nervous. Losses happen, but blowouts are not a thing with these guys. They compete.
13. More Allen: “You look at these last two games, we came out flat in both of them. We could have just rolled over and gave the game up easily. But we came back and tried to stay in it.”
14. Clearly, the Cavs are taking great pride in their fight, in really believing they can win. I haven’t seen this type of mindset since LeBron James was the focal point. And coach J.B. Bickerstaff deserves a lot of credit for what’s happening today.
15. Bickerstaff on the loss: “In the first half, we were searching for our rhythm. Give them credit. They’re a really good basketball team. We were trying to adjust to what they were doing, how they were playing us. I thought in the second half, we found our way a little bit.”
16. Isaac Okoro went 0-of-6 for zero points in 18 minutes. I don’t know, man. It’s too soon to give up on the guy. But there are just too many nights where he does nothing. The Cavs need someone to at least look serviceable in filling in for Sexton. Okoro is getting the first crack. Time is running out.
17. Khris Middleton scored 21 for the Bucks and Jrue Holiday had 20. Milwaukee is 11-0 when Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday are all in the lineup together. They have now beaten the Cavs eight straight times, and improved to 43-4 vs. Central Division opponents under coach Mike Budenholzer.