The Cleveland Cavaliers played quite well last night. And they did it without Anderson Varejao. And they did it without Kyrie Irving going bananas. It was truly remarkable and actually, quite fun to watch. They cruised to a 94-82 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on the road.
Cavs' leaders: Points: Waiters, 18; Rebounds: Thompson, 14; Assists: Irving, Walton, 4
Here's what went down:
If I told you that the Cavaliers would win a game in which Kyrie Irving only scored 15 points and Anderson Varejao didn't play, you'd ask if we played the Bobcats or Wizards. Instead, that's exactly what happened -- and they played a very solid Milwaukee Bucks team. This was a game that took place between two tired teams and the Cavaliers certainly looked more prepared and better conditioned. They were surprisingly fresh and it wasn't all that sloppy. Even Luke Walton played well.
Yes, that Luke Walton. First of all, let's explain why Luke Walton was even playing. With Anderson Varejao out, the Cavaliers have to get a little tricky with their rotations. And since Omri Casspi has apparently gotten the flu that lasts 2 weeks, Walton is the guy that plays over Samardo Samuels or Kevin Jones. Walton plays some point-forward instead of playing Jeremy Pargo or Donald Sloan for significantly minutes. And you know what? Walton provided some damn good minutes. His passing is still awesome, even if he can barely move. He set season-highs in virtually every stat and really did help the offense run without Kyrie or Dion. I highly doubt that this will be a common occurrence, but it was fun to watch. And helped the Cavs win.
Dion Waiters put together a rare efficient game for the Cavs. He shot over 50% from the floor, but still had just 18 points on 17 shot because of his inability to get foul calls or hit threes. Regardless, it he was attacking the rim and hitting some jump shots. The more I watch him, the more I get the feeling that he can be a better defending, better passing Monta Ellis. Which isn't that bad. It was just interesting to see the two of them on the court at the same time last night. Speaking of Monta, he went crazy again last night. Monta was the only Bucks player in double figures as he dropped 37 points.
The real story from this win against the Bucks was Tristan Thompson. He's recorded three straight double-doubles with Varejao out and really took over the game for stretches. Larry Sanders has been an awesome story this year and really dominated the Boston Celtics the night before. However, Double T completely dominated this matchup. Sanders was held to just 2 points on 0 of 3 shooting and 4 turnovers. Although Sanders has 12 rebounds and 5 blocks, the Bucks were a -20 when he was on the court. Meanwhile, Tristan had 14 points and 14 rebounds and the Cavaliers were a +25 with him on the court. Tristan showed patience AND force. He hit a few finesse shots, but also dunked through traffic. We also saw a Kyrie-Thompson pick and roll that resulted in a dunk. They should run that play more often to build some chemistry for the future. Tristan also played some stifling defense and the Cavs' D collapsed without him on the court. Overall, very very good game from Tristan and I believe the improvement is fairly obvious at this point.
C.J. Miles did provide that boost off the bench that I had been talking about. He played just 21 minutes but scored 16 points on 9 shots in that time. He took good shots and made them without hesitation. These are the kinds of contributions we need from Miles on a semi-regular basis.
The defense was much better that it had been. Part of that was guys like Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova being awful, but part of that was the Cavs. Cleveland held the Bucks to 87.1 points per 100 possessions. Which is way way better than the Cavs usually do. Kyrie played better defense, but still gets lazy at times. On the offensive end, Kyrie was quiet. He scored just 15 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He did shoot 50% from the floor, so it wasn't like he was inefficient. He just didn't take over. He had his regular array of spectacular drives and passes, but just didn't need to explode in the fourth quarter. It's nice to see.
Fear The Sword's Player of the Game:
Tristan Thompson. He was a beast.
The Cavaliers will have Sunday off but will practice Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Cleveland plays their next game on the road at Washington on December 26th.