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Final Score: Cavaliers’ last second bid fails, fall to Bulls 99-98

It could have been worse, I suppose.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers had a chance to win at the buzzer against the Bulls, but a Collin Sexton layup fell short and his follow-up was blocked as they fell 99-98 on Saturday.

The Cavaliers played perhaps their most complete game of the season outside of their sole win against the Hawks, with three players finishing with 20-plus points for the Cavaliers. Tristan Thompson is playing arguably the best basketball of his career recently, finishing with an outrageous 22 points and 12 rebounds on 10-14 shooting.

Sexton also had one of his best games as a pro, despite his last-second failure, scoring 20 points on 8-16 shooting while dishing three assists to only one turnover. Sexton is looking more and more comfortable in a larger role, and it didn’t hurt that his jumper was running hot.

This was yet another game where the Cavaliers had to dig themselves out of a hole (they trailed 37-23 after the first quarter), but they did so admirably and even took the lead for stretches in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers have been so starved for wins that it’s hard for this one not to hurt a little. They’re running out of winnable games in the early portion of their schedule, and it’s set to get a lot uglier for the rest of November with Kevin Love not due back any time soon.

Still, there are positives here. Thompson looks like the player that earned that much-derided contract several years ago, and the two-big pairing with Larry Nance somehow isn’t as ugly as it should be. The pair combined for 26 rebounds (10 offensive) and they’ll need to continue to crash the boards for an offense-deficient team.

This is an outrageously short-handed team, without Love, Cedi Osman and George Hill, they’re probably the least talented team in the NBA (and might be in the conversation even when fully healthy.) They’ve battled hard for three straight games, and that’s about all you can ask, even if the product is ugly.

There’s been plenty of talk about expectations heading into 2018-19, and in a lot of ways, low expectations are a blessing. A hard-fought loss to a cellar-dwelling Bulls team would be a humiliation for last year’s Cavs, and instead, tonight feels like something approaching a moral victory.

This team will need to start racking up some actual victories in the near future, if not just to boost morale around the team and fanbase, but for now, incremental progress will have to do.