Unknowns take center stage in preseason opener: Cavs 99 – Bucks 87
The new Milwaukee Bucks made its moderately anticipated debut with uninspiring results, generally. After grabbing a 6-4 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers early, the Bucks began to struggle to make shots and deal with a more cohesive Cleveland team. The Cavs used a 17-0 run to grab a 15 point lead that would never fall below 10 points again.
The Bucks shot just 35% in the first half and made only two-of-10 three point attempts. Milwaukee’s starting backcourt of O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight combined for six points on just two of 12 shooting. Both of them struggled against a very aggressive pick and roll defense from Cleveland. Cavs big men Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Earl Clark hedged very hard on any pick and rolls and both Knight and Mayo were moving away from the basket with far more frequency than they were moving towards it.
In the front court, Ersan Ilyasova rolled his ankle on a landing when contesting a fast break layup. He was down for a while, but it doesn’t appear to be serious. Larry Sanders attacked the rim on the offensive glass for a few tip slams, but missed badly on the two jump shots he attempted. And, possibly just to remind us all that this season is officially getting back on track, he picked up his first technical of the preseason in the third quarter.
None of the Bucks starters played in the fourth quarter, in which the team finally started making some progress on offense thanks to an influx of Cavaliers turnovers and the strong offense of Stephen Graham (?) and … Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis seemed like the player to focus on all night Tuesday. We’ve seen so little of him and we’ve seen nothing of him competing against players like he’ll play against in the NBA. He’s one of two completely unknown commodities heading into this season along with Miroslav Raduljica, though Bucks fans hopes are tied significantly tighter to Giannis than they are to Raduljica.
Well he’s already done more than many expected. The rookie’s 14 points were good for second on the team and he actually went into halftime as the team’s leading scorer. He made seven-of-10 free throws and went 3-7 from the field. (1-3 3FG). He was most obviously impressive handling the ball in the open court.
A lot of forwards can bring the ball up the court, but Giannis looked very natural in getting to the middle of the floor and assessing the whole court when making a decision about what he wanted to do with the ball once it was time to make a decision. He looked as capable of making a good pass as he was taking the ball all the way to the hoop, which he did on a number of occasions, leading to his high free throw total.
But there were times Antetokounmpo looked like a rookie too. He picked up two traveling violations that were the result of shuffling his feet as he started to drive. It looked like he was a little indecisive in these moments and was trying to move faster than he could.
He also was a bit non-chalant on a few passes, leading to one turnover. He’ll probably learn quickly about the consequences of not putting enough on passes in the NBA after a few more players step into his passing lanes and take his passes the opposite way for layups.
Overall, it was a good debut that indicated Antetokounmpo may be a ready for a few more minutes than we expect this season, especially if Carlos Delfino misses any significant time.
The big man from Serbia scored six points and made both shots he attempted. He looked very strong on the court, to the point where when he was holding position he was a bit reminiscent of Jon Brockman, but with about six more inches and a few more pounds. Strong is good and he used that strength to bully his way into a couple of offensive rebounds and easy baskets inside.
He doesn’t look like Brockman is when he’s attempting to cover space though. To say the least, Raduljica is slow. Bucks defenders are going to need to be very proactive in covering for him on rotations, because it takes him an extra second or two to rotate from player to player. This seems like the kind of thing that will keep his minutes limited if he can’t figure out how to play angles better or just move quicker.