Milwaukee Bucks (13-14) 102
Cleveland Cavaliers (21-6) 113
In a rematch of Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home without JR Smith and with Kevin Love still out with a sore knee. Despite playing an overtime game the night before, the Cavaliers came out with great energy and took care of business against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee scored first in this one, and that 2-0 advantage would be their only lead of the night. The Bucks hung in there with the Cavaliers for a while, trying to make a run every time the game looked like it was getting away from them. Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, however, the Cavaliers offense, led by Kyrie Irving and LeBron James was just too much for the Bucks.
This home and home series with Milwaukee was a pretty important one for the Cavaliers. Not in terms of wins and losses so much, but more as a measure of redemption. In late November the Cavaliers dropped a tough one in Milwaukee and that triggered a three-game losing streak. The last of those losses was the last time the Cavaliers lost a game in which at least one of the Big Three played. By sweeping this home and home, Cleveland established that they can overcome some adversity with injuries to key players against a team that proved just a month earlier that they could beat them.
Now, for the numbers:
- 31 and 13 – Kyrie Irving was simply great in this game. He led everyone with 31 points while also putting up a career-high 13 assists. Kyrie also had 6 rebounds and a steal against 4 turnovers. This was perhaps the most well-rounded game of Kyrie’s career. The scoring was great, of course, but Kyrie’s playmaking with the assists was an added dynamic that we don’t always see. It wasn’t just the volume of assists, but the quality of the assists was what really set this night apart. Kyrie was sensational using his ball handling to create space and then dishing to cutting teammates of open shooters on the perimeter. On a night where Kevin Love was still out, the Cavaliers needed Kyrie and LeBron to both pick up the slack, and Irving responded with one of the best games of his career.
- 29/9/6 – The other half of that equation, LeBron James, had a typically quiet display of greatness himself. LeBron scored 29 points, had 9 rebounds, and picked up 6 assists. LeBron continued his improved long-range shooting, knocking down 4 of 7 from three. LeBron had seen his three-point shooting percentage drop three consecutive seasons, but this season he’s back up to 36.8 percent, his highest mark since he was playing in Miami.
- 20-8 – LeBron James hit his third three-pointer of the second quarter with five minutes left in the half to open up a 51-34 lead for Cleveland. Cavaliers coach Ty Lue then took LeBron out. From there, the Bucks outscored the Cavaliers 20-8 to get right back in the game by halftime. The run was fueled by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s relentless attacking. Giannis seemed to be perpetually at the free throw line, going 7-7 from the charity stripe in the quarter. In fact, in the first half, Giannis attempted almost as many free throws himself (10) as the Cavaliers did as a team (11). In his halftime interview with Fox Sports sideline reporter Allie Clifton, Richard Jefferson expressed the team’s frustration with the officiating as he felt the refs weren’t giving the same benefit of the doubt both ways in terms of contact. RJ’s frustration boiled over in the fourth quarter as he received two technical fouls with three minutes left in the game and was ejected.
- 55 – The Milwaukee Bucks may be one game under .500 now on the season, but that doesn’t mean the future doesn’t look bright. Giannis Antetokoumnpo and Jabari Parker combined for 55 points in this one, with Giannis going for 28 and Parker right behind with 27. Giannis, at 22 years old, and Parker at 21, form the young nucleus of this Bucks team which is looking to overcome a long stretch of mediocrity and with so many exciting young players, they look largely on the right track. The Bucks haven’t had an All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004 and they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 when they were in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7. Despite their record, this year’s Bucks team plays hard, competes, and isn’t one to be overlooked.
- 48 to 44 – One night after being dominated in the paint by a 54-28 margin, the Cavaliers responded by outscoring the Bucks 48 to 44 in the paint. It wasn’t your traditional post-up, pound it out style points in the paint, though. The Cavaliers were using ball movement to attack the Bucks defense and Cleveland was consistently finding the guy cutting to the rim for an easy basket.
- 30 – The Cavaliers had 30 assists in this game. This is always my personal favorite stat because the assists generally tell the story of how this team played. When they are running their offense at maximum efficiency, they are very difficult to beat. Cleveland is now 18-1 since LeBron returned to Cleveland in games in which they had 30 or more assists and 56-5 in games with 25 or more assists.
The Cavaliers now have a day off before taking on the Brooklyn Nets on Friday in their final tune-up before the big Christmas Day showdown against the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland misses Kevin Love, for sure, but it’s a good sign to see the team responding to Love’s absence by picking up the slack and playing pretty great team ball.