I admit that I felt pretty good coming into this game. And then it started and that feeling went away. The starters looked lethargic and simply weren't playing hard. On virtually every possession, the Milwaukee Bucks had a wide open shot -- and they weren't missing. And then, something happened. For the first time all season, the bench stepped up. The bench's energy helped close the gap and then Kyrie Irving put the finishing touches on a rather surprising win. From down 21 points to a 113-108 victory, this was one of the best games all season.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have been burned by their reserve unit all season long. For some reason, bringing Luke Walton, Jeremy Pargo, Donald Sloan, Kevin Jones, and Daniel GIbson off the bench just hasn't worked out. Who could have seen that coming? But on Friday night, when the Cavs' starters looked disinterested in playing any type of defense, the bench stepped up in a big way. The second unit was led by Shaun Livingston and Luke Walton and had surprising continuity and fluidity in the offensive sets. The passing was crisp and the shot selection was patient. It was truly remarkable to see. Typically, when a team gets down by 21 points, they just start chucking up the first shot they get in order to cut into the deficit. But the veterans that led the second unit knew better than that. Patient, unselfish basketball helped get the Cavaliers back into this game. It was a delight to watch.
The new guys definitely gave this team a spark. Marresse Speights and Wayne Ellington played 18 and 12 minutes, respectively. And they did a fine job, especially considering the fact that neither of them has gone through a full practice with the team. Speights gave the Cavs a legitimate big man rebounder to help out Tyler Zeller and Ellington played hard-nosed, disciplined defense. Earlier this season, the Bucks used Mike Dunleavy to smoke the Cavs. Last night, Ellington chased him around and did a great job preventing him from getting open looks.
The bench played so well that Byron Scott simply had to ride with the hot hand. He waited until there was roughly 5:00 left in the game before he brought Kyrie back to close it out.
Kyrie Irving was fantastic. He had 35 points on 12 of 17 shooting. Over the past two games, he has 75 points on 41 shots. Whoa.
Tristan Thompson PER Watch: Up to 15.4. Watch out.
Dion Waiters was attacking early and often. He shot 50% from the field again. Progress!
Oh my goodness, the defense in the first three quarters was so bad. The Bucks had 90 points entering the 4th quarter and were shooting 12 of 19 from behind the arc. And that wasn't Milwaukee hitting tough shots. That was Ersan Ilyasova draining WIDE OPEN three pointers. Tristan Thompson had the unfortunate task of guarding Ersan (I think?), but whoever was supposed to stay on him failed miserably. Maybe it was lack of communication or just lack of effort (it was probably both), but the Bucks got way too many open shots. The Cavs want to play at a faster pace and it's nearly impossible to do that if you're always taking the ball out of the basket. On the bright side, the defense locked down in the fourth quarter. But a defensive efficiency of 104.1 for the game still is not ideal.
Just this picture of Mike Dunleavy. That's all.
Good luck sleeping tonight.