The Cleveland Cavaliers (23-9) defeated the Milwaukee Bucks (16-13) twice over the first three weeks of the regular season, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. refused to let the defending Eastern Conference champions further establish their dominance Tuesday night.
Working alongside point guard Eric Bledsoe and swingman Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo helped will the Bucks to a 119-116 triumph at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee after the Cavaliers erased a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit behind superlative showings from LeBron James (39 points) and Dwyane Wade (14 points).
Antetokounmpo, who nearly recorded his first triple-double of the season, finished with 27 points (8-of-14 shooting), 14 rebounds and eight assists, and his and-1 layup over James with 5.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter sealed the result for the home team.
The big-time bucket allowed Milwaukee to snap a three-game losing skid. It also halted the Cavaliers' five-game winning streak.
The Bucks, who entered the Central Division showdown with the NBA's eighth-ranked offense, largely looked like a well-oiled machine against a Cavaliers defense that has been on the rise since mid-November.
As if Antetokounmpo's near-triple-double wasn't enough to keep Milwaukee's offense humming, Bledsoe burned Cleveland's backcourt for 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
His most impressive deposit came in the form of a putback slam, which helped ignite a 39-point second quarter for the Bucks as they outscored the Cavaliers by 15 in the frame and took an 11-point lead into halftime:
Middleton added 18 points and 10 assists, while John Henson (15 points, six rebounds) and Malcolm Brogdon (16 points) chimed in with key supporting efforts.
However, it was almost all for naught as Milwaukee's offense flatlined for most of the fourth quarter due to a combination of careless turnovers, reduced ball movement and isolation-heavy sets.
ESPN Stats & Info broke down the Bucks' failures in the final frame:
Conversely, Cleveland couldn't be stopped down the stretch.
The Wine and Gold ripped off a 24-2 run spearheaded by Wade and the second unit, and the 12-time All-Star capped off a personal 6-0 spurt to give his side a brief two-point edge with 5:10 to go in regulation:
In fact, the bench was so hot that head coach Tyronn Lue didn't let James back onto the floor until there was 3:38 remaining.
LeBron proceeded to drop eight points upon returning, and his unrivaled late-game confidence looked like it would be too much for the Bucks to handle.
But thanks to Tony Snell's clutch three with 58 ticks left on the clock and Antetokounmpo's timely layup, the Bucks were able to exorcise their early-season demons and cap off a signature win in style.
Milwaukee will return to the floor in search of a second straight win Friday when the Charlotte Hornets come to town.