For the first time in three tries this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers got it done against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite 45 points from Antetokounmpo, Cleveland picked up a 114-106 win.
Leading the Cavs in scoring was Donovan Mitchell with 36 points. Darius Garland added 23 points and 2 assists while Jarrett Allen chipped in with 19 points and and 8 rebounds.
Defending Giannis as well as possible, thanks to Jarrett Allen
There’s no denying that Antetokounmpo had a great performance against the Cavs. He finished with 45 points — a new season-high in points for him. He was relentless in attacking Cleveland’s defense. The Cavs, by any measure, did not slow down or stop Giannis.
But Cleveland, in the words of Mitchell, “made it tough.” That started with Allen, who drew the Giannis assignment later in the game with Evan Mobley in foul trouble and the Bucks making a comeback. Allen didn’t record a block against the Bucks, but he was there at the rim contesting Giannis.
Allen was hurt the first time the Cavs played the Bucks. He got hurt early in the second game against Milwaukee. Even with Giannis’ final stat line, Cleveland has to feel better about its defensive process against Giannis with Allen in the lineup and playing a team-high 39 minutes.
The Cavs deserve credit as a team too. They, whether it was Kevin Love playing with Allen or a nearby wing, had two on the ball against Giannis to deny him easy driving lanes as he came across half court. And when Giannis rolled, the Cavs always tagged him, slowing him just a bit as he rolled to again try and deny him clean looks from on an entry pass.
Again: Giannis scored 45. He finished 17-27 from the field and took 16 free throws. He was the best player on the floor. But the process of defending him was right.
Isaac Okoro, positive contributor
Okoro, again starting at small forward, came out strong in this game. Mobley hit him with a feed to the opposite corner for a three for the Cavs’ first basket when the Bucks leaving him wide open. He would hit another one later in the game. On another possession, when the Bucks closed out, he attacked the closeout and fed Allen for a dunk.
On top of the offensive effort, Okoro was his pesky defensive self. He defended Jrue Holiday for much of the game, working to make Holiday take contested shot after contested shot if he got into the lane. Over and over again, he held up. It was telling that, when Milwaukee went to Giannis at the five late and took of Brook Lopez, Bickerstaff went back to Okoro to close out the game in place of Love.
This is the kind of game the Cavs want from Okoro. Twenty-five minutes, eight points (six of which came on corner three-pointers), two assists, strong defense. To do it against the Bucks, in a game with stakes, matters.
Donovan Mitchell, getting to the line
This was not a prime Mitchell shotmaking performance en route to 36 points. The Bucks, to their credit, made life hard for Mitchell. When he got into the lane or came off of a pick, a body was waiting for him. Mitchell finished 9-21 from the field and 3-9 from three as a result.
Where he instead found success was at the free throw line. Mitchell repeatedly went at the Bucks defense, forcing them to foul him or give him a look near or at the basket. The result was a 15-16 night at the line for Mitchell — a new season-high for free throw attempts (and makes) for Mitchell.
Twelve of Mitchell’s free throw attempts came in the second half. That was needed as the Bucks defense tightened up and the Cavs needed to manufacture points however they could.
“He understood how to get himself to the free throw line and get himself going,” Bickerstaff said.
Up next: The Cavs continue their homestand on Friday against the Toronto Raptors. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. Cleveland is 0-2 on the season against Toronto.