The Cavaliers jumped out to an early lead, but it took a miracle three-pointer in overtime from LeBron James to secure the 114-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
J.R. Smith left the game in the second quarter and did not return with an injury to his hand. The Cavaliers were already without Kevin Love, who was resting a sore left knee, and facing a roster crunch due to Mo Williams and Chris Andersen taking up roster spots while injured. In the first quarter, it appeared the depleted roster would not be an issue, as the Cavaliers jumped out to an early and commanding 15 point lead. The Bucks fought back, closing the gap to four by halftime. The Cavs maintained a small lead through most of the game, but the Bucks erased a seven point deficit with less than two minutes to play to force overtime. Jabari Parker made the game-tying layup with fifteen seconds remaining. Overtime saw the teams trade leads before LeBron James drained a three from deep behind the three point line with 24 seconds left. The Cavs were able to hang on for the win.
Tristan Thompson was a force to be reckoned with in the first half. He owned the boards with eight rebounds and scored nine points before picking up his third foul late in the second quarter. That foul forced him to the bench and James Jones to enter the game. AS A CENTER. The Cavs’ lack of depth started to crack against the elite athleticism of the Bucks, as Jabari Parker had his way with Richard Jefferson on his way to 30 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 25 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, while the springy John Henson scored 14.
But it was LeBron James who shouldered the load for the Cavaliers. He scored 34 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists. The Cavaliers were missing the spacing that Love and Smith provide, and Kyrie Irving was off, shooting 8-23, though he still scored 28 points. This forced LeBron to shoulder the load, not only in scoring and playmaking, but in minutes. James played 47 minutes on the front-end of a back-to-back. Kyrie played 45. If Smith is going to miss any time, the Cavaliers may need to look at adding depth before the February trade deadline.
This was a fun game, as most Bucks games tend to be. The Bucks put on a show, with a number of “WATCH THIS BUCKS PLAYER EVISCERATE THE CAVS” type highlights.
— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2016
But the Cavs have LeBron and the Bucks don’t.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 21, 2016
And the kill shot..
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 21, 2016
The Cavs return to Cleveland to face these Bucks again Wednesday night. Matthew Dellavedova, now with the Bucks, will be receiving his championship ring, so it should be a fun night. Let’s take a look behind the box score.
8th – LeBron’s place on the NBA’s all-time NBA scoring list, passing Moses Malone during tonight’s game.
14th – The Cavaliers are 14th in the league in Rebound Percentage. This is a trend I’ve discussed before, but something that should be a strength on a team employing Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and LeBron James has suddenly become a weakness. The Cavs were third in the NBA last season, grabbing 52 percent of available rebounds. That number is down to 50.3 percent this season. Much like the defense (which has slipped from 10th last season to 15th this season), one can assume that the team will ramp up the effort when the playoffs start. Still, this is a concerning trend, and one you hope to see the team work on.
36 percent – Delly’s three-point percentage this season, down from 41 percent in Cleveland last year. He’s been better of late, shooting 41 percent in December after only hitting on 32 percent of his three-point attempts in November.
30 – Points for Jabari Parker. He doesn’t get nearly the hype of draft-classmates Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid, but Parker may be as good as any of them. He and Wiggins have eerily similar per-36 minute stats, as shown below, and his true shooting has reached .552 this season, superior to Wiggins’ .534 on similar usage.
80 percent – The Golden State Warriors have led for 80 percent of all second half minutes they’ve played this season. They’re a monster. They’re firing on all cylinders. But remember, if the Warriors beat up on the Cavs on Christmas, it doesn’t mean any more than it did last year when the Warriors won the regular season series. Regular season champs don’t get t-shirts with trophies on them.
Warriors have led for 80% of all 2nd half minutes.
Have led by 10 or more 56% of time
Have led by 20 or more 31% of time
— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) December 20, 2016
It’s unfortunate the Cavaliers have suffered a recent rash of injuries, as it likely makes the Christmas Day rematch against the Warriors less of a litmus test for where both teams stand. But the Cavs have games against the Bucks on Wednesday and Nets on Friday before we get to the main attraction.