The Cavs played one of their best two-way games of the season tonight. Forget that the Bucks are terrible, and forget that the Cavs went on a 17-0 run in the first quarter and only led by one at the end of it. The Cavs looked good defensively tonight, and acceptable offensively, which is all we can ask for at this point. This was a much-needed win to get back on track after the Mavs and Bulls games, and the Cavs did just that.
The Cavs started off this game terribly, letting the Bucks jump out to a 9-4 lead. This forced a quick Mike Brown timeout, which completely changed the tide. The Cavs got on a 17-0 run after that timeout, featuring Tristan Thompson cooking. He had four points on the run off tip-ins, as he worked the Bucks on the glass. This has been a weakness for the Bucks all season, and the Cavs took advantage throughout the half with eight first half offensive boards. The run crescendoed with a Kyrie Irving three that forced a Bucks timeout, and continuing until the lead was 23-11, before a Khris Middleton three. The Cavs made a curious decision at this point to empty the bench, even letting Henry Sims get some run. This predictably backfired all over the place, as the bench unit couldn’t score in the last three minutes of the quarter, and allowed the Cavs to go on a 12-1 run to end the quarter, led by a dominant Larry Sanders run of seven points and one deafening block of a Jarrett Jack jumper. Even with a fun 17-0 run, the Cavs led just 24-23 at the half.
The Cavs started the bench again in the second quarter, and this unit with Tyler Zeller instead of Henry Sims faired much better. Earl Clark and Dion Waiters actually hit shots, and the Cavs worked a lot of excellent pick-and-roll looks, forcing the Bucks to go zone for the second half of the quarter. The Cavs quickly turned it into a double-digit game, as the Bucks couldn’t hit anything in the second quarter. I lost track of the amount of times the Bucks missed the rim or net entirely with a shot. Particularly bad were Caron Butler and Ersan Ilyasova, who were a combined 2-10 from the field in the first half. The Cavs also continued to control the boards, and even though their offense went quiet at the end of the half (Because that’s new), the Cavs led 46-37 at the break.
The Cavs never let up in the third quarter. The defense continued to suffocate what little the Bucks could muster, and the offense relied on some great ball movement in the third to build a 15-point lead. Tristan continued to be active early in the quarter, as the Cavs continued to attack the Bucks’ posts, down one because Ekpe Udoh left the game in the late second because of an ankle sprain. Kyrie didn’t really shoot much, instead choosing to attack the Bucks by passing to his far more open teammates. He had 10 dimes after three. Tyler Zeller helped stretch the game further, recording a couple points and a vicious smoke monster block of a fast break layup at the end of the quarter, as the Cavs didn’t falter at the end of a quarter for once to go in with a 71-55 lead, putting away the game.
With the fourth quarter as a formality, the bench mob checked in, and kept the bloodshed going. The bench got going with Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark dropping bombs from deep and Tyler Zeller filling the lane inside. The Cavs hit seven of their first 10 shots in the quarter, stretching it to 89-65. After that, Anthony Bennett checked in, and it was all over. The Cavs got a huge blowout win, their first one in forever, and it was really fun to watch.
PG Kyrie Irving – 10 points (4-10 shooting, 1-3 3PT), three rebounds, 10 assists
Irving didn’t really seem to have an interest in scoring tonight, but that’s fine, because his passing was superb. Kyrie had an excellent game distributing, easily seen by his 10 assists, and he kept the offense in good flow and movement while they balanced the scoring load tonight. I was a little frustrated with Kyrie’s defense of Brandon Knight tonight, but that’s fine, because Brandon Knight took care of himself by being horrible at point guard play. I’m okay with Kyrie’s performance tonight.
SG C.J. Miles – four points (1-6 shooting, 0-2 3PT), three rebounds, three assists
Meh. C.J. didn’t shoot well but he only played 15 minutes tonight, and he also passed the ball effectively, and I’m not expecting him to contribute much most nights. He was a complete non-factor.
SF Luol Deng – nine points (4-9 shooting, 0-2 3PT), five rebounds
Deng wasn’t good on the offensive end, but his defensive contributions were very important to the game tonight. The Bucks have some interesting wings, between Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, Giannis Atentokuomnpo, and Caron Butler. Deng shut all those guys down, particularly Ersan, who Deng guarded for most of the game, and who produced just 5 points on 10 shots. Deng did get 5 rebounds, which was nice, but offensively he just couldn’t find a rhythm. His defensive game was excellent, however.
PF Tristan Thompson – 14 points (6-12 shooting), 10 rebounds
Tristan played extremely well tonight, crashing the boards and playing solid defense on John Henson, who had just 8 points and six rebounds with 4 turnovers as Thompson played extremely well against him. Offensively he was impressive, except for my major bone to pick with TT: STOP SHOOTING FLOATERS. Thompson bricked three terrible floaters in traffic tonight, and he continues to choose to float the ball instead of trying to attack the basket and finish with contact. This prevents him from getting to the line in addition to it being a lower percentage shot, even in traffic. Thompson needs to attack the basket fully if he’s going to take opponents off the dribble. Other than that, however, good game from TT.
C Anderson Varejao – 16 points (8-11 shooting), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
That’s right, CAVALIERS LEADING SCORER, Anderson Varejao. Andy was money from the elbow tonight, which was key to this game because A. The Cavs could continue to feed him as a consistent weapon, and B. It drew Henson and Larry Sanders away from the basket, the key to beating the Bucks defensively. Varejao frustrated the Bucks with plenty of buckets, and while he didn’t put up gaudy rebounding numbers, he shifted his game to be a huge factor on the offensive end, and that’s what the Cavs needed.
Tyler Zeller – 8 points (3-6 shooting), nine rebounds, two steals, three blocks
Dion had 13 points and eight rebounds, but screw that, Zeller was the BOMB tonight. He had a huge defensive effort, attacking Sanders and Henson with no fear, and making the Cavs’ bench unit better by being a rim protector with those three blocks. And I can’t make this clear enough: Zeller’s track-down block on the Knight fast break at the end of the third might have been the best play I’ve seen in a few weeks from the Cavs. That kind of hustle and intensity is great to see from Zeller, and he also had a great night on the boards, leading the team with nine. I loved Zeller’s game, perhaps his best of the season, and hope to continue seeing this level from TZ.
Excellent coaching tonight from Mike Brown. He set up the gameplan to make sure Sanders didn’t go HAM on the Cavs’ offense, dragging him away from the basket by running lots of high post sets for Varejao and Thompson. He also made a great move letting Deng guard Ilyasova, taking away the Bucks’ best outside threat, and letting C.J. hound Giannis. That timeout in the first quarter was huge as well; any time you go down 9-4 and respond with a 17-point run, it’s a great move. I’ll forgive the Henry Sims first quarter substitution. Clearly, Brown was drunk with that move. But otherwise, he coached close to a perfect Mike Brown game; suffocating defense, smart, conservative offense, and only two end-of-quarter collapses instead of the requisite three.