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Bucks survive Cavaliers’ furious rally
MILWAUKEE — Well, that’s one way to snap a three-game losing streak.
Flashing a flair for the dramatic on Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Bucks built a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers, watched it disappear in the blink of an eye, then rallied over the final minute for a 119-116 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champions at Bradley Center.
“It’s big,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “That’s a big step for our team. It showed a lot of maturity. Usually, in a situation like that, we usually give away the game, but I think we did a great job staying in the game, believing in ourselves and staying together.”
Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 27 points and added 14 rebounds and eight assists. But, like the rest of the Bucks’ starting five, he was on the bench for much of the fourth quarter as the Cavs stormed back with a 24-2 run. They took a 107-105 lead after Dwyane Wade hit back-to-back 3-pointers with 5:11 to play.
The Bucks’ drought continued until Malcolm Brogdon snapped a six-minute scoring drought with 3:38 left.
LeBron James, who wasn’t on the court for most of Cleveland’s surge, returned to the floor at that point and ripped off six straight points to put the Cavaliers back up a point with 2:04 left.
“Those guys were just playing off each other,” said James, who knocked down six 3-pointers and finished with 39 points. “Wade hit a couple of big shots. He was running and orchestrating the offense. ... We were just defending and getting stops and they helped us get back into the game.”
Just like that, though, the Cavs’ luck ran out. They missed their next four baskets and fell behind by five before James’ final 3-pointer made it 118-116 with 2.1 seconds to play.
“LeBron hit some big shots to keep us in it,” said Wade, who scored nine of his 14 in the final quarter. “In the third, we came out a little lackadaisical. They took a big lead, but we came right back.”
Milwaukee earned its first victory of the season over the Cavaliers, who had won the last five meetings, including a 124-119 decision on Nov. 7.
Just hours before that game, the Bucks had traded for Eric Bledsoe. While Bledsoe didn’t play in that contest, he made his presence known Tuesday, scoring 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and adding five rebounds and a pair of steals in 32 minutes.
“His heart, his determination, his grit,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “It’s everything that we needed, and you saw that tonight.”
Bledsoe scored nine in the second quarter as Milwaukee turned a six-point deficit into a 14-point lead. He scored 15 of the Bucks’ season-high 69 points at halftime.
John Henson led the charge in the third, scoring 11 of his 15 points. The Bucks made 12 of 21 shots to go up by as many as 18.
“It was a game of runs on both sides,” Kidd said. “We kind of bent, but we didn’t break.”
Cleveland had won five straight and 18 of 19 before falling to the Bucks.
“Every night is not going to be a great night,” Wade said. “You’re not going to do everything perfect, but all we try to do is be resilient, stick with our game and give ourselves a chance to win.
“We gave ourselves a chance tonight; we just didn’t do it.”
NOTES: PG Matthew Dellavedova returned to Milwaukee’s starting lineup after missing 15 games with left knee tendinitis. He made two 3-pointers to finish with six points in 10 minutes. ... G Tony Snell also returned for the Bucks after he sat three games with left patellar tendinitis. Snell played 23 minutes and hit two 3-pointers, finishing with eight points. ... G Jason Terry, who missed Milwaukee’s previous six games with a strained calf, was active but did not play. ... G Dwyane Wade was back after sitting out Cleveland’s victory at Washington on Sunday. He hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points in 26 minutes while playing his last career game at Bradley Center, his home court during a two-season stint at Marquette University. ... Cleveland had won five in a row against the Bucks, including the first two meetings this season.