We saw this story play out so many times before last season: The Cavs would go up 15+ on their opponents and then wither away their lead in the third/fourth quarter. In Monday night’s win, the Cavs almost went from 23 up to losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Cavaliers fell down to the Bucks by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but the team charged back with five minutes to go in surprising fashion. Both squads had played brilliant offensive games, especially in the first half, but the Wine & Gold just couldn’t prevent any Milwaukee run from gaining momentum in the second half. Only down by two at the half, the Bucks quickly stormed out of the gates to throw the Cavaliers into disarray, leading to an eventual 109-104 victory.
After coming out and shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three, the Cavaliers dipped almost 12 percent and 15 percent respectively by the end of the game, while the Bucks consistently kept the Cavs out of reach for much of the third quarter and early on in the fourth quarter.
O.J. Mayo’s hot hand couldn’t be cooled, causing the Bucks to rise almost three percent from outside the arc in the second half. New arrival to Milwaukee Gary Neal stepped up and was a major contributor from three as well. Mayo and Neal logged 28 and 23 points respectively, while shooting a combined 83.3 percent from outside the arc.
But, with just under five minutes to go in the game, Cleveland’s defense stepped up to slow down the success Milwaukee was having in the perimeter game. Down by 13 points, Kyrie Irving reminded fans of last season, but this time in a good way.
After being fouled on a layup and finishing all the way to the basket, Cleveland started to inch back with the kind of defensive possessions that Mike Brown has preached since landing here a second time and the offensive play of Kyrie.
Fast forward to the three-minute-to-go mark, and all the Cavs’ hard work has almost been erased, as Neal hit a three to put the Bucks back up by 12.
After that point, the Cleveland defense forced one bad Mayo pass and two misses by the Bucks offense, and Kyrie had 12 points in less than two minutes.
With 1:15 to go, things started to really heat up with the Wine & Gold within two points. Dion Waiters (!) came up with a crucial block on Mayo, leading to the first time in the game that I could point to when the Cavs actually played defense for a sustained length (I can’t be too hard, though, as they went into the game ranking second in scoring defense). After being fed the ball from Irving, Anderson Varejao spotted the red-hot C.J. Miles behind him for a three that gave Cleveland its first lead since the 5:05 mark in the third quarter.
Although Kyrie cooled down after Miles’ big shot – going 0-of-2 from the field and turning over the ball once – the Cavs wouldn’t have been in position to snatch the comeback victory without his 15 points in less than four minutes. This was the first major offensive production that we saw from Kyrie this season, and the Cavs in general.
Still, I don’t think this Bucks team is very good. They were missing Larry Sanders, but he has been playing limited minutes this season anyways. Zaza Pachulia has filled in quite fine for Sanders, but think if Milwaukee’s centerpiece was suited up for this game. The Cavaliers stayed outside on offense for most of the game, but Sanders would have still had some effect on the Cavaliers offense.
The Cavaliers defense has played tremendous ball up to this point considering their ranking amongst the NBA last season. But taking two of these next four road games would have been a nice early-season task completed by the Cavs. Now, Cleveland looks at a Philadelphia team that has looked pretty good so far and the Timberwolves and Bulls on the road. They could come potentially go 0-4 in those games, which would put us in a similar position as we were early on in last season.
But again, since the Cavaliers have played pretty stout defense up to this point and fought back on the road until the very end, there has to be some positives to take away from this one. The backcourt tandem of Irving and Waiters finished with 50 points and shot over 50 percent from the field combined, Andy found his thing from outside once again, shooting 6-of-9 from the field for 12 points and Miles continued to be a commanding force off the bench with 14 points. But what’s missing is a defensive highlight. The Cavs did force 10 steals, but played porous perimeter defense for practically the entire game. Good strides on offense, but a game that I definitely went into with strong hopes of the Cavs winning.
The Cavaliers will travel to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday to take on the 76ers (3-2). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. You can find Cavs vs. 76ers tickets here.
PG Kyrie Irving – 29 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while shooting 50 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from three and 100 percent from the line. Irving produced his first offensive game in which he had over 20 points. I wasn’t worrying, but I was glad to see a glimpse of Mr. Fourth Quarter there for a little bit. Now let’s see the whole thing.
SG Dion Waiters – 21 points, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. Dion came up with a huge block down the stretch and looked pretty suave on offense. It was nice to see the backcourt get in a rhythm tonight. This was by far Dion’s best offensive game.
SF Earl Clark – Three points. After converting on a three-pointer in the first quarter, we didn’t see much of Mr. Clark the rest of the contest. He played only 13 minutes, while Alonzo Gee (23) and Miles (24) split time at the three.
PF Tristan Thompson – Five points and seven rebounds, while shooting 20 percent from the field. And he played 35 minutes tonight. This is the second night in five games in which Tristan has looked non-existent on the court. The other three nights he has looked like he can sustain a double-double for the rest of the season. It’s early, but what Tristan can we expect on the reg?
C Anderson Varejao – 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, while shooting 66.7 percent from the field. Andy continues to improve on his perimeter game, and he seems to be bringing it out to the corners/shoulders. If this keeps up, I have no problem with him seeing 30+ minutes a night.
SG C.J. Miles – 14 points in 24 minutes, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. Miles continues to be the bright spot on the bench, but there was a huge consistency issue last season. I think there’s a fire in C.J.’s eyes this season, though.
Mike Brown was extremely upset with the job that Cleveland did defending the three-point onslaught from Milwaukee. Even Zaza held his own down low against Andy and the Cleveland frontcourt. Despite an offensive awakening, Brown won’t be satisfied with any performance from this team if they aren’t putting in their work on defense. However, I liked how Brown let Kyrie do his thing down the stretch, even though it almost caught them the game Monday night.