When the Cavs found themselves down 79-59 to the Milwaukee Bucks with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter, it was evident that it would be another frustrating night for the Wine and Gold faithful. Kyrie Irving orchestrated a run at the end of the quarter that erased ten points of the deficit and left the Cavs down by a score of 87-77.
Irving was fantastic in that stretch. He had 10 points and a rebound. All of the good feelings that the fans in the Quicken Loans Arena felt like a distant memory when Byron Scott started the fourth quarter with a lineup of Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Luke Walton and Marreese Speights. It felt as if it would be another blown opportunity for a feel good win by conservative coaching by Scott. Little did anybody know that the aforementioned lineup would outscore the Bucks by 16 points in eight minutes.
This was quite possibly one of the wackiest lineups we have seen in recent memory and for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, it worked like a charm. Luke Walton was instrumental in the streak for Cleveland. In 10 minutes of play, he had 4 assists. In fact, Walton tied his season high of 7 assists in back-to-back games with his performance against the Bucks. Newcomer MarreeseSpeights quickly became a fan favorite because of his play in the fourth quarter. He had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. As impressive as his fourth quarter stats were, the way he played was more promising. Speights was playing like a savvy veteran. He played with a lot of energy and repeatedly found himself at the right place at the right time. This is a welcome site considering he was just traded to the Cavs and hasn't even practiced with the team.
The Bucks outscored the Cavs by 24 points from three point shots. The Cavs made up for that difference by shooting a better percentage from the field. The Cavs also made 17 of 22 free throws, which is much better than the Bucks who only made 8 of 13. The Bucks are a team that leads the NBA in blocked shots with an average of 7.6 per game. The Cavs, on the other hand, is 29th in the league at getting their shots blocked with an average of 7.0 per game. This had the potential to be a recipe for disaster, but Cleveland was only blocked 6 times. The Cavs had also had 5 blocked shots of their own.
The biggest potential hurdle for the Cavs winning the game was Ersan Ilyasova. The newly re-signed Buck had a field day against the Cavs. At one point, he made three consecutive three point shots. Ilyasova made 5 of 6 threes en route to a season high 30 point performance. As the Bucks are wont to do, their backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis did not play well simultaneously. Ellis had 21 points on shots and Jennings inefficiently scored 14 points on 19 shots.
The crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena was electric in the fourth quarter. It has been a while since I have witnessed that many people in the arena cheering on the Cavs during a come-from-behind push. Perhaps the loudest reaction came when in a post-game interview, Kyrie Irving said that he cannot wait to represent the Cleveland Cavaliers in Houston.
On his first bobblehead night, Tristan Thompson continued his strong play. Although his rebounding numbers are down, his scoring is more impressive than it was earlier in his career. Thompson had 18 points and 6 rebounds on 14 shots. His footwork in the post is much better. He is showing more patience when he needs it and more decisiveness when that is more prudent.
The Cavs made the Bucks pay from in the paint. Cleveland outscored Milwaukee 52-40. The Bucks attempted to beat the Cavs by shooting a lot of three pointers. It appeared as if the strategy would work for much of the game, but Cleveland held Milwaukee to 2 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. This was instrumental in the Cavs outscoring the Bucks by a score of 32-18 during that stretch.
Cleveland has been very bad against teams in the Central Division for quite some time, but they seem to match up well with Milwaukee. They have beat them in the two last meetings and lost one game at the buzzer on November 3. This was a good win for the Cavs, because the Bucks went into the matchup with a 6-2 record under interim head coach Jim Boylan. It wasn't only Kyrie Irving's 35 points that mattered, It was a whole team effort.
The Cavs are still a long way from being a good team, but Chris Grant has quietly improved the team in a subtle way. Losing out on a high draft pick is unlikely because of the lack of talent on the team, but the additions of Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington were instrumental in the Cavs winning on Friday night. It is not time to start printing off playoff tickets, but the goal of the season was for young guys to develop, bring in a few extra pieces, get some more assets and get another high pick. It appears that most of these goals have been achieved or will be in due time.
The Cavs travel to Toronto tomorrow night to take on the Toronto Raptors. Tipoff is at 7:00 PM. Things may be on an upward trend for Cleveland with eight of their next ten games in Cleveland.