In the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ first visit of the season to Milwaukee, they weren’t beaten by a scrappy Bucks team. Nor did they lose because of an off-night of their own. Instead, the Bucks put LeBron James and company to the sword thanks to their own individual and collective brilliance.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has spent much of the first five weeks of the season proving that he already belongs with the league’s best, and as such, it was fitting that when matched up with the league’s best player he played arguably the best game of his career to date.
It wasn’t just Giannis either. As a group, the Bucks looked as cohesive as they have done under Jason Kidd, putting in a performance that any team on the planet would have struggled to match on this given night.
It doesn’t mean that we won’t see a return to less spectacular fare soon, or that this young team won’t offer up further frustration during the year; but it proves that this is a legitimate team that no longer needs to be discussed solely in terms of potential. Now, the ability is real.
So with a 17-point win and a host of memorable moments to swoon over, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from a signature Milwaukee Bucks win.
Considering the incredible numbers Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up to start the season, Bucks fans have been busy chattering recently.
The team hasn’t sent a player to the All-Star game since Michael Redd in 2003-04. Instead, recent years have seen the fanbase dare to hope that maybe a Brandon Knight or Khris Middleton could sneak in as a last minute reserve. As a result, the continued emergence of the Greek Freak has left the people of Milwaukee daring to dream.
“Could he, possibly, be an All-Star, maybe, this year, if everything goes right?” That’s the kind of polite way fans ask a question when they know what it feels like to have been burned too many times.
Now, the questions over whether Giannis can make the All-Star game need to stop, though.
Antetokounmpo WILL be an All-Star this year. At his current rate, he might even start, and that might only prove to be the stepping stone for a season that puts him in the conversation for All-NBA teams and awards.
There’s no more need for trepidation. On Tuesday night, Giannis was kind enough to grant LeBron James a front row seat for a 34 point, 12 rebound, five assist, five steal, two block masterclass. The 21-year-old outmatched LeBron physically like I can’t remember any other player doing in recent years. He even had success backing LEBRON JAMES down!
Antetokounmpo has become a force of nature. Bucks fans have known this for quite some time, but there’s a difference between living off the hope of what he can be, and seeing him deliver matched up against the best player of the past decade.
Giannis is now a runaway train. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.1 blocks while shooting 52.7 percent. Potential is still a factor as he still has so many ways in which he can improve, but he’s already hitting heights that 99 percent of the league could only ever dream of reaching.
This isn’t about scraping into All-Star teams any more. This is a new world for Bucks basketball.
The King left Milwaukee with an L on Tuesday night, as the King-in-waiting cemented his place as the rightful heir to the throne.
Tonight, Giannis joined LeBron as the only players in the past 30 seasons w/ 30 pts, 10 rebs, 5 asts & 5 steals in a game before turning 22. pic.twitter.com/VHN2jlqDaf
Michael Beasley has gone from being a second overall pick with prodigious potential, to spending the majority of his career as the butt of jokes made all around the league.
Having taken in what he described as a humbling experience in China, Beasley has already experienced more than many NBA players go through in an entire career, yet at only 27 years old he still has a chance to make things work.
It’s not an easy thing to put your finger on a reason for why this is, but it’s starting to look like Milwaukee could be the place where it all clicks into place for him.
After a surprising trade saw him land with the Bucks, leaving many (this writer included) dumbfounded, there’s been an increasing sense of synergy between Beasley and his new team.
His energy has been welcomed in Milwaukee, both in his play and his demeanor, as he’s brought something to the table that the team was lacking in both chemistry and production. Rebounding and instant offense were viewed as givens when the deal went down, but Beasley has brought more.
He’s applying himself on defense and he’s playing a pivotal role in commanding some second unit groupings. Once reckless, Beas is currently looking confident.
Just ask LeBron.
Of course, with Beasley there’s no way of guaranteeing that this isn’t a house of cards, set to go tumbling at any given moment. But it’s nice to think that he might have found a home where he can play his best basketball and make up for lost time.
Delivering 17 points with a team high plus/minus of +22 says all that’s left to be said about his performance in this one. Keep doing you, Beas.
It seems inevitable that as a rookie in the NBA, you’re going to be hit with certain moments that will leave you dazed. Those “welcome to the big league” moments.
If Malcolm Brogdon hadn’t felt like that up until this point, the first half of Tuesday’s game certainly must have given him pause for thought.
A Defensive Player of the Year winner as a senior in college, Brogdon had to watch Kyrie Irving blow by him on multiple occasions with ease.
Then, he was confronted with LeBron James. Plowing his way through bodies as if they weren’t even there, James approached a helpless Brogdon in the paint at full speed. He had no choice but to foul James. Or at least that was the plan.
Brogdon fouled LeBron twice to no avail, he gets the and-1. "Hard" and "harder" fouls don't work against him. Gotta go "hardest," kid.
After maybe his toughest half of the season so far, it would have been easy for Malcolm Brogdon to disappear towards the back of the bench. He’s just a rookie, it’s somewhat expected. Instead, he came up with big plays to help seal the win.
Between two three-pointers, a nice layup and an alley-oop assist, Brogdon was a big factor in driving Tyronn Lue to pulling the plug, conceding defeat and sending in his bench.
Brogdon’s inconsistent shooting may have dampened some of the buzz surrounding the former Virginia Cavalier of late, but he’s a real NBA player already. He doesn’t shirk responsibility, and maybe most important of all, he understands that getting knocked down doesn’t mean you can’t get back up.
After a rollercoaster spell that now sees a win over the Cavs join narrow losses to the Warriors and Raptors, it’s harder than ever to understand how this same Bucks team can be blown out by Miami and lose to a hobbling Mavericks team.
What has become clear, drawing not just from this season but an abundance of evidence last year too, is that the Bucks excel in games where they’re required to play up to their opponent’s level. Whether the underdog tag suits the Bucks, or this group just takes greater pride in the scalps of high profile foes isn’t really relevant.
What is indisputable is that this habit could come in very handy for the Bucks in the near future. Now back at .500, Milwaukee’s next two games come against the lowly Brooklyn Nets. These are exactly the kind of games the Bucks should win, but often struggle in.
Beyond those Nets games, Milwaukee will need to bring the best of their plucky underdog approach out for a schedule that sees them play the Spurs, Trail Blazers, Hawks, Wizards (twice), Raptors, Bulls (twice) and Cavs (twice) before Christmas.
It would seem like there could be no better time for the Bucks to pick up a confidence boosting win like they did on Tuesday, now the focus needs to shift to them parlaying that into a respectable run against some of the league’s best teams.
If that becomes a reality through that stretch, Milwaukee’s ambitions for the season may become just a little bit loftier.