LeBron James’ 40-Point Triple-Double Leads Cavs Past Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, left, from Greece, knocks the ball loose from Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 19, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Cleveland Cavaliers with health concerns and roster turnover making headlines, but LeBron James got his All-Star teammate back Monday and thrived in a 124-117 victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks at Quicken Loans Arena.

The win put Cleveland four games ahead of Milwaukee in the crowded race for Eastern Conference playoff seeding and served as a reminder the James and Kevin Love combination will factor heavily in the pursuit of a championship.

James led the way with a triple-double of 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, while Love added 18 points, seven boards and four assists in his first game since he suffered a broken hand against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 30.

Love also hit 4-of-9 from three-point range, demonstrating his tendency to take advantage of openings largely created by James’ presence.

Even with Love and James back together, Cleveland was without head coach Tyronn Lue, who explained his temporary absence in a statement released by the team:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.”

Larry Drew filled in and naturally put the ball in James’ hands.

The four-time MVP’s individual showdown with Antetokounmpo stood out as the battle within the battle, especially with the opportunity to make a statement in the race for All-NBA status.

Antetokounmpo made the initial statement by defying the laws of gravity in the second quarter and soaring above the rim for an alley-oop from Eric Bledsoe. It was the best play of a sequence that saw him establish himself on the blocks whenever he was mismatched against wings, forcing the defense to collapse.

He also demonstrated his versatility by scoring in one-on-one situations and unleashing crisp passes when the doubles came, and the result was 37 points, 11 boards and five assists.

It was James, though, who made the loudest statement, especially in the third quarter when he went into takeover mode.

He scored 10 straight points for his team—six of which came from deep and two of which came on a rim-rattling jam—and assisted on the two buckets bookending his spurt as Cleveland began to take control.

He also took matters into his own hands with less than two minutes left after Milwaukee closed within eight, going coast-to-coast and throwing down an exclamation-point slam.

His individual dominance was too much for Milwaukee’s defense, and the additional attention he drew led to open looks for his teammates. Six Cavaliers scored in double figures, and the return of Love gave James a complement who can hit from deep and facilitate as well.

It also couldn’t have come at a better time for a depleted Cavaliers frontcourt that is without Tristan Thompson (ankle) and Larry Nance Jr. (hamstring).

The Cavaliers needed the offense since their defense is a mere 28th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com, and had to deal with Bledsoe penetrating and creating shots for himself and others, Khris Middleton drilling threes on the wing and Jabari Parker anchoring the second unit, in addition to Antetokounmpo.

Middleton poured in 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 shooting from deep, Bledsoe added 13 points and eight assists, and Parker tallied 12 points and six boards, but it still wasn’t enough to counter James and the rest of the Cavaliers.

Milwaukee will look to bounce back Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, while the Cavaliers will turn their attention to a showdown with the East’s top-seeded Toronto Raptors on the same day.