Editor’s Note: Trying something a little different, tonight. I’m turning this one mostly over to guest blogger, Elijah Kim, who drove up from the CBus. Anyone who would travel five hours in this garbage weather, must be a fan. I reserve the right to interject now and then.
After starting a very favorable five game homestand with a pair of frustrating losses to the Dallas Mavericks and the severely undermanned Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers looked to rebound (quite literally) against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.
I had the privilege to drive all the way up to Cleveland from Columbus, risking my life and basketball sanity, to watch a divisional game that seemed like a “must-win” for Cleveland. The Cavaliers did respond in this contest, starting out on fire, cooling down just as fast, and then putting it all together after the first quarter. Cleveland finished the rest of the game with much more energy and fight as the game progressed.
The First Quarter started with the Bucks off to a good start. Henson was very active with his passing and scoring and Giannis hit a big three for Milwaukee. The Cavs found themselves down 11-6 early. Then, Cleveland responded with a 17-0 run highlighted by sharp passing and distributed scoring to take the 23-11 lead. For some reason then, Mike Brown turned to Henry Sims (over Tyler Zeller?), Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, Matthew Dellavedova, and Dion Waiters to close out the quarter. As most Cavs fans could reasonably suspect, that did not bode well and then the Bucks went on a 12-1 to end the quarter, shrinking the Cavs lead down to 24-23 by the end of the quarter.
The Second Quarter wasn’t great for either team as both teams failed to get in much of a rhythm. The Bucks and Cavs traded mini runs as Dion Waiters led the offensive attack for Cleveland in the second quarter with a couple of jumpers and multiple layups. He finished the quarter with 11 out of the 22 points for the Cavaliers. As the quarter wound down, the Bucks couldn’t seem to make anything and refused to rebound. It seemed like once the lead was established for Cleveland; the energy was sapped from the Bucks. The Cavs extended the lead to nine going into halftime, 46-37.
Nate: Ekpe Udoh left in the late fourth with an absolutely horrific looking injury to his left leg which appeared to be a high ankle sprain. He came down on Tristan’s foot, and will probably join the Bucks’ walking boot list for a while. If you’re a baller, you probably felt nauseated watching it.
The Third Quarter: The Cavaliers gained complete control of the game. Kyrie Irving (10 points, 10 assists) took over, with seven of his ten assists coming in this quarter. It was very encouraging seeing Kyrie setting up his teammates. The Cavs extended the lead to 71-55. All of the Cavs fans I was sitting next to were wondering when our victory cigar would enter the game. By victory cigar, I mean our very own, beloved, Anthony Bennett.
The Fourth Quarter: Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack seemed determined to keep the pressure on the Bucks. Dion and Jack helped the Cavs extend the lead to 89-65 when Anthony Bennett checked into the game. I am no sports psychologist, but that man needs a hug and some love. He just seemed to not have any joy in basketball. It was very obvious that his teammates were setting him up with post entry passes, and trying to get him involved in the pick and roll/pick and pop game.
Anthony Bennett missed two dunks, but to be honest, I was rooting for him to make any shot. I wanted him to keep shooting. The crowd also was very eager for him to show some semblance of life, cheering every time he touched the ball. AB did manage to get some offensive rebounds and ultimately did get fouled, sending him to the free throw line. After each one of his makes, the crowd had their loudest cheers of the night for him. I just really wish that he could use all of this negativity from this season to motivate himself going forward. The Cavs need AB for their long-term success.
Nate: Tom texted me during this game expressing remorse for how much we’ve piled on AB15 so far this year. I hate to see the guy this forlorn. It’s such a bizarre dichotomy, too. You watch him moving and running and he just exudes elite strength, speed, and athleticism. And then when a basketball related play is required of him, he just seems… hopeless.
It’s even more disheartening to contrast this to Giannis “the Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, who is barely scratching the surface of his basketball ability, and yet with a simple game and simple moves he can effect what’s going on just through length, rebounding, and activity. Every time he makes a basketball play it’s potentially… breathtaking.
Kyrie’s body language seemed very positive in today’s game which was quite understandable as he was announced the starter for the All-Star Game and selected for the U.S. Basketball National Team. Can use this good news in his personal career to better the team?
Nate: Irving played a fantastic “team” game and was engaged defensively. He moved the ball, didn’t hog it, and didn’t play down to his competition. I love watching him in games like these. Why can’t he play like this every game? Oh yeah. He’s still just 21.
CJ Miles seems to be in a slump. He only played 15 minutes and shot poorly (1-6). I wonder if Mike Brown would consider Dion returning to the starting lineup, moving forward, hopefully allowing him to play with Deng more.
Nate: Conversely, Brown could stop jerking C.J.’s minutes around so much and stop playing Jack at the three…
Thompson, Zeller, and Varejao played with great energy tonight as they cleaned up the glass, accounting for 23 of the 52 Cavalier rebounds. The Cavs outrebounded the Bucks 52 to 34. Tristan had another double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He struggled at the line, going 2-6, but had some nice powerful finishes at the rim. Zeller finished the game with eight points and ten rebounds in 22 minutes.
Nate: It can’t be understated how good Zeller looked. He had three blocks, and two were monstrous: one on John Henson, and a chase-down on Ridnour that he absolutely plastered. Zeller’s head was at the rim on that second block. ZPA seems to have gotten in unbelievable shape, and his athleticism is really starting to show. He chipped in two steals too.
Varejao had 16 points on 8-11 shooting but had a quiet rebounding night with only four. It would be nice to have Zeller get more minutes as the third big.
Nate: At one point in the third, Andy hit four straight jumpers, and a gorgeous right hand hook over Drew Henson. According to the broadcast, Andy is third in the league at mid-range jumpers, at just over 48%. It was really nice to see Kyrie set him up for what is becoming a knock-down shot. Andy should be getting at least a half a dozen elbow jumper attempts per game.
Dion Waiters had a solid game. Although he didn’t shoot the ball very well (5-13), he found other ways to impact the game with his eight rebounds, three assists, and consistent defense.
Overall, it was a solid, but not great win. The Cavs handled the Bucks on the scoreboard, but only shot 42% from the field, which is quite frustrating considering the opponent. This Bucks team is the worst team in the NBA, and it is not even close. The Cavaliers will stay at home for the fourth game of this homestand against the Phoenix on Sunday and will need a much better effort to win. The final game in this homestand is against the Pelicans on Tuesday. The win tonight helped tremendously as Carmelo torched the Bobcats and now the Cavs are “only” two games back in the playoff race.