MILWAUKEE — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue spent the morning praising the Milwaukee Bucks’ tenacious and athletic defense. But Milwaukee’s 22nd ranked offense was the Cavaliers’ biggest issue Tuesday night.
Muscling their way into the paint with little resistance, putting together a season’s worth of highlight-reel dunks, whipping the ball around with relative ease (27 assists) and beating the champs up and down the floor and to loose balls (17 second-chance points), the Bucks scored their second-highest point total of the year, crushing the Cavaliers, 118-101.
So enraged with his East-leading squad, Lue called for mass substitutions in the third quarter, taking all five players off the floor and replacing them with little-used reserves DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, Mike Dunleavy, James Jones and Chris Andersen. At that point — the 3:49 mark of the period — Milwaukee had tallied 78 points on 52.5 percent shooting and led by 11.
It’s November and the Cavs have cruised to a blistering 13-3 start. But Lue had seen enough. He appeared to be sending a message, especially after a sluggish beginning on Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
This time, starting slow wasn’t Cleveland’s problem. It was providing the requisite intensity, especially on the defensive end, to keep up with the young, energetic Bucks, who easily erased a 14-point deficit in the first half.
J.R. Smith’s defensive gaffe — allowing an easy basket while sharing a hug with Milwaukee reserve Jason Terry while play had already resumed — summed up the Cavs’ dreadful night perfectly.
Jason Terry daps up JR Smith, Tony Snell gets an easy bucket https://t.co/W2V72A0NpQ
— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) November 30, 2016
Lue brought his starters back for one final fourth-quarter push about one minute into the final period, with the team trailing, 92-74, but they couldn’t make up any ground. Tuesday belonged to Milwaukee, which finished 46-of-86 (53.5 percent) from the field and scored a whopping 68 points in the paint.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s 21-year-old star-in-the-making, led all scorers, tying his career high with 34 points on 13-of-19 from the floor. Versatile forward Jabari Parker added 18 while Michael Beasley chipped in with 17 points off the bench.
There weren’t many positives from Cleveland’s third loss of the season, and second with James in the lineup, but the Cavs did finish 14-of-39 from 3-point range. They have yet to go a game this season with fewer than 10 made triples.
Smith briefly snapped out of his shooting skid, burying his first two shot attempts, both 3-pointers, but just like the rest of his teammates, fizzled late. Smith missed his last five attempts.
LeBron James led the way with 22 points on 8-of-16 from the field.
Kevin Love, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, had his streak of scoring at least 20 points snapped at three games. He finished with 13 points on 3-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 13 rebounds. Kyrie Irving scored 20.
Turnovers, an area James highlighted earlier in the day, were also an issue, as the Cavs committed 20 miscues, which the Bucks turned into 22 points.
The night began with the Cavaliers exchanging pleasantries with former teammate Matthew Dellavedova. It ended with a dejected departure after suffering their worst loss of the season.
The Cavs return home to take on the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night in the first game of a back-to-back. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. After the brief stop in Cleveland, the Cavs head back on the road for a three-game trip, which starts in Chicago Friday night.