Bucks have early statement win after beating Cavs
After having a four-game winning streak snapped a week ago by the Boston Celtics, it appeared the Milwaukee Bucks had beat up on a set of three pitiful teams to get to 4-4.
That assessment was a fair one. The Nets, who the Bucks beat twice in the streak, only have a single win. Philadelphia is still looking for victory No. 1. And the New York Knicks had dropped two in a row before losing to the Bucks for unlucky No. 3.
Then the Celtics showed up in Milwaukee just as they had begun to play better. They beat Washington by 20 the night before their game in Milwaukee and, including that game, have now won four of their last five, all by double digits.
Milwaukee went on the road the next night and lost to the Denver Nuggets, a team off to a .500 start in the tough Western Conference.
These results made it look like the Bucks might merely be the best of the NBA's bad teams—not exactly the target at the outset of the season. But Saturday night's surprise result against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a 108-105 Bucks win in double overtime, showed they can compete against and beat the most talented teams in Association.
The Cavs rode into Milwaukee with an 8-1 record, the only blemish an opening-night loss to the pretty-good-themselves Chicago Bulls.
With Michael Carter-Williams returning to the lineup, the Bucks finally had their projected starting five together for the first time. All five—Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe—scored at least 11 points.
Monroe and Antetokounmpo both added double-digit rebounding totals, and Jerryd Bayless and Greivis Vasquez each scored in double figures off the bench.
Antetokounmpo also had the unenviable assignment to defend James. Despite the high point total allowed (37) and the fact Antetokounmpo fouled out in the second overtime, James shot under his season percentage against Milwaukee, an indicator that Antetokounmpo did at least an OK job against the King.
The Bucks led for much of the second half but had an 11-point advantage whittled away by a 17-6 run keyed by James (who else?).
Bayless had a chance to win the game in regulation with a jumper from the elbow as time expired, but it rimmed out to send the game to overtime.
Admittedly, I thought the Cavaliers, with the momentum of erasing a double-digit deficit and the best player in the league on their team, would take control in the extra period. But the resilient Bucks wouldn't give up their lead, and James missed a 3-pointer as time ran out in the first overtime.
He made one to start the second overtime and give Cleveland a 99-96 lead, its first since 55-54 with 9:14 to go in the third quarter, but Middleton calmly responded with a 3 of his own to knot it back up.
After trading jabs to get the score to 103-102 in Milwaukee's favor, Vasquez hit another 3-pointer to give the Bucks a four-point advantage, just the kind of breathing room a team seeks in overtime.
Milwaukee held on from there and had the kind of character- and confidence-building victory a young team with lofty aspirations needs.
A rematch with the Cavs looms Thursday night, followed by divisional games against the Pacers and Pistons, a pair of opportunities to show they're the best of the rest behind Cleveland and Chicago in the Central Division.
Tim Seeman is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.