Cavaliers' Loss to Bucks Proved LeBron Has a Successor in Giannis as the NBA's Best Player

Tyronn Lue benched LeBron James for most of the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin on Tuesday night—but James still put up 39 points and seven assists in 34 minutes.

And the Cavaliers still lost, because they were up against no ordinary team and no ordinary superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who may be in the process of providing James and Kyrie Irving with a credible rival as M.V.P. in 2018.

The ‘Greek Freak’ had the kind of all-round monster effort against the Cavaliers that is becoming de rigeur this season. He scored 27 points, added 14 rebounds and eight assists and generally did very little to dispel the idea that the Bucks are a one-man roadshow, with entertaining supporting acts from Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsloe.

Aside from Antetokounmpo’s stats, though, there was one play which looked like a glimpse into the future of the NBA that may be here sooner than we think. With the game in the balance, and the Bucks leading 115-113, James thought he’d come up with a key steal that could have won the Cavaliers the game off a Middleton error. ‘The King’ hadn’t counted on the presence of the Bucks’s superstar, though. Giannis stole the ball back off James, scored the layup and drew a foul from Kyle Korver.

 

 

That, pretty much, was the game, despite one more three-pointer from the Cavaliers. Lue’s team is still 23-9 and sitting just 2.5 games back of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Even in a tough loss they showed heart, erasing a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter without James. The Bucks are fifth at 16-13. Unlike LeBron, Giannis isn’t quite good enough yet to turn a borderline contender into something approaching dominance. Tuesday night’s clutchness proved he isn’t far away, though.

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