CLEVELAND (AP) — On their third try, the Cavaliers didn’t crumble against the Bucks.
Donovan Mitchell was not going to let that happen again.
Mitchell scored 36 points and Cleveland finally put together a full game against Milwaukee, holding off superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 45-point performance in a 114-106 win Wednesday night.
Darius Garland added 23 points and Jarrett Allen had 19 for the young Cavs, who lost their first two games to the Eastern Conference’s top team this season – both times giving up in the third quarter and losing by 15 to Milwaukee.
Cleveland didn’t stumble in third this time and held on in fourth as Antetokounmpo brought Milwaukee back.
“You get up 20, 21 against a team like this, it’s hard to hold them off,” Mitchell said. “They will continue to fight. There’s no way they’re just going to topple a team like this, especially when trying to send a message to an Eastern Conference opponent.
“When you face a team that has been together for so long after the two games we had there to come here and protect the home pitch. It’s a big moment.
Mitchell has turned the Cavs into a playoff team, and possibly capable of going deep into the playoffs.
“The Cavs are very, very dangerous,” Antetokounmpo said. “They have great players and a great system. I see no reason for them not to make the playoffs and have a good run, not against us, though.
Mitchell scored 15 points in the third as the Cavs opened up a 24-point lead. But Antetokounmpo wasn’t finished and the Bucks pulled away to come within five on Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointer with 2:21 to go.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” said Antetokounmpo, who missed his first three free throws but finished 11 of 16 from the line. “When I’m aggressive, I know I can play well. I was just trying to do anything to boost the team.
But the Cavs held on thanks to Mitchell, who went 9 of 9 from the free throw line in the fourth as Cleveland shut down the Bucks and possibly sent a message in the process. Mitchell made 15 of 16 free throws.
The Cavs improved the NBA’s best home record to 16-2, tying their start to the 2016 league season. They also showed maturity by not making the same mistakes they made in their first two meetings.
“We kept our cool,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said. “It’s a champion team. They won’t give in. They go shopping. In the past, we have not been able to support their races. Tonight was a big step for us.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is impressed with the Cavs’ growth.
“With the addition of Mitchell, everyone has the ultimate respect for these guys,” Budenholzer said. “They don’t surprise anyone at this point, they’ve earned the respect of everyone in the league.”
Antetokounmpo scored 24 points in the second half and added 14 rebounds. Brook Lopez had 14 points for the Bucks, who were without injured All-Star forward Khris Middleton.
“Giannis was phenomenal tonight,” Budenholzer said. “He put the team on his back and had an aggressive mindset throughout the game. If he saw a crack tonight, he broke it. But there are times when even he can’t get past five guys.
“If we do 1-2 more shots, maybe we’ll get over the bump.”
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Mitchell conceded a 39-footer 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in the third quarter to be tied by Jrue Holiday, who kissed a glass from the same distance on the horn.
The two guards shared a laugh and patted each other playfully on the back.
“I couldn’t help but laugh,” said Mitchell, who said the basketball gods punished him for liking his mark. “That’s what you get when you celebrate too soon.”
Bucks: Holiday finished with nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists. … Milwaukee didn’t register their first assist until midway through the second quarter. … Middleton missed his third game in a row and the timing of his return is unclear. The three-time All-Star was limited to seven games after undergoing wrist surgery in the offseason.
Cavaliers: Mobley is one of four players to average at least 15 points, nine rebounds, 2.5 assists and one block. Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis are the others. … F Lamar Stevens (knee) missed his third straight game in pain.
Bucks: Visit Brooklyn on Friday nights.
Cavaliers: Host Toronto Friday night.
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