As it turns out, playing just one of the four quarters of a basketball game is not conducive to winning. After sleepwalking for the first three quarters of the game, the Cavaliers’ comeback effort came up short, resulting in a 119-116 loss at the hands on the Bucks.
To start the fourth quarter, Cleveland trailed 99-83, but the Cavaliers’ second unit methodically cut into Milwaukee’s lead. It did so in the same way that Milwaukee built its lead in the first place: by getting stops at the defensive end and pushing the tempo.
After scrapping for much of the fourth quarter, Cleveland finally got a 107-105 lead on a Dwyane Wade three-pointer with 5:11 remaining in the game. The impressive thing about the Cavaliers’ 24-6 run to start the fourth was that it came entirely from the second unit. In fact, LeBron James did not reenter the game until the 3:38 mark in the fourth quarter when Cleveland trailed 108-107. The Cavs briefly reclaimed the lead after a three-pointer and an and-one from James, but with Cleveland leading 113-112 James looked to Korver, who fired a corner three-point attempt that went begging. The miss led to a Tony Snell triple at the other end, and Cleveland could not reclaim the lead.
James finished the game with 39 points and 7 rebounds. Kevin Love had 21 points, but only two of his 21 came in the second half. Milwaukee had five players score at least 15 points with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe putting up 27 and 26 points respectively.
Despite a strong 15-4 start Tuesday, the Cavaliers found themselves trailing 69-58 after the second quarter. The deficit boiled down to energy level. Milwaukee simply played harder and with more urgency in the second quarter. The Bucks consistently won the battles for loose balls, and as is so often the case, the hustle plays translated to made shots.
The Cavaliers got off to such a hot start largely because they moved the ball well, and they moved well without the ball, preventing Milwaukee’s aggressive defense from dictating what happened on the floor. As the first half progressed, however, Cleveland’s offense stagnated, and the Bucks took advantage by pushing the tempo and getting the ball up the floor as quickly as possible. To put it plainly, Milwaukee toasted the Cavs in transition in the first half.
If the Cavaliers had been able to play the whole game — or even half the game — with the energy they had in the fourth quarter, they probably would have come away with a win. They will be back in action Thursday when they host the Bulls.