Losing on the road to a team many think will win the NBA title is not a problem. Losing by 20-plus points to that team on the road is not necessarily even a problem, provided your rebuilding team gets impact performances from the players you’re constructing around. We’ll get into whether or not that happened, but the Cleveland Cavaliers came up short against the Milwaukee Bucks despite defending Giannis Antetokounmpo as well as all but a handful of teams will this season. Instead, the Bucks relied upon former Cleveland Cavalier George Hill and Pat Connaughton to come off the bench and score a billion points.
The Milwaukee Bucks 129, your Cleveland Cavaliers 112.
POSITIVE: The final numbers may not look like it, but Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are still good
The Cavs have a weird roster and are still figuring out how things should look. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are veterans who have an understanding of where they’re supposed to be. They also have fully developed NBA bodies and understandings of NBA defenses. Their guards, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, are not there yet. Jordan Clarkson off the bench, well, he is a wolf I suppose, without really the vision to quarterback an NBA offense at a high level. Matthew Dellavedova simply can’t play at a high enough level to do it consistently.
That’s led to the Cavs trying to run offense through Kevin Love, and, tonight, Tristan Thompson. In today’s NBA it’s extremely difficult to ask bigs to post up or face up from the post and create efficiently. Thompson in particularly isn’t able to pass or shoot, so his options are limited. The shooting results for both are not ideal; they combined to score 32 points on 30 shots with six assists and four turnovers. Hopefully over time there will be less of these guys trying to create on their own, and more of Garland and Sexton initiating offense. Both seem to be in good shape and ready to share an offensive load; right now, the guards aren’t helping them get the ball in good spots.
Defensively, it should be noted that Thompson defended Antetokounmpo on a high level all night. The MVP scored just 14 points on 15 shots and was clearly bothered by Thompson’s strength and length. Love and Thompson combined to rebound at a high level. In my preview of the Cavs first game with Orlando I speculated that the Love, Thompson, and Larry Nance Jr. frontcourt would be relatively good. So far that looks about right.
NEGATIVE: Darius Garland took a small step back
Let’s be clear, this isn’t worth getting worked up about. The Bucks are a very good defensive team with a lot of length. Garland is sharing time with Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson, and those guys soak up dribbles even when they don’t finish possessions. Still, you’ll live with the defensive struggles when you see flashes of high-level offense. He made a nice runner in the lane and did get off 11 field goal attempts, but long term the Cavs need more. His usage rate on the season is well below Sexton’s, and you’d like an even balance.
He can take his time, there’s no rush. He won’t go 1-5 from three-point range often, or at least it shouldn’t be anywhere near what his percentages are. He’s barely played any competitive basketball for over a year now. I think we’ll be very happy with him for large parts of the year. Just didn’t click tonight.
POSITIVE: Larry Nance Jr. helped the bench unit stay competitive
Fifteen points on nine shots, eight rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes is about all you can ask for. I’m still a bit of a skeptic on his three point shooting, but the ones he took tonight were stand-still, balanced shots, and he made two of four. I think he could be a bit better defensively, but part of that is who he’s sharing the court with. As I referenced above, the Cavs are likely to stay competitive as long as they have all three of Love, Thompson and Nance available. It’s a frontcourt with an understanding of what helps you win basketball games. The rest of the team will just need to catch up.