I thought this game was headed to overtime.
Trailing 102-100 with eight seconds left in the game, Kyrie Irving went the length of the floor and hit the game tying layup, leaving just seven tenths of a second on the clock. With that little time left, I figured that we were going to get an extra five minutes of the Cavs not guarding Mike Dunleavy (29 points, 10-12 FG, 6-7 3pt).
Brandon Jennings (perhaps aided by a hometown clock keeper?) came around a screen, caught the inbounds pass and nailed a 28 footer as time expired. The Cavs defended it pretty well, but sometimes you gotta just tip you cap. Clock shenanigans or no, Jennings hit a big time shot and the Cavs started their six game road trip in the most heart breaking of ways.
Kyrie Irving paced the Cavs with 27 points (10-18 FG, 7-8 FT), Anderson Varejao finished with 20 points and 17 boards, and four of the five Cavalier starters finished in double figures (and the fifth, Tristan Thompson finished with nine). It was a much better showing than Friday versus the Bulls.
The Cavalier bench, however, might be an issue. Milwaukee outscored their Cavalier counterparts to the tune of 62-15. Dunleavy posted a ridiculous 29-12-6 line, Larry Sanders had 17 points and Beno Udrih finished with 11 and 5 assists.
Cleveland jumped out to an early 22-10 lead but Milwaukee fought their way back, behind Monta Ellis (23 points) and Dunleavy. Dunleavy, in particular, killed them. The Cavs let Dunleavy get two layups late in the first quarter and once he saw the ball go on in the basket, it seemed like he couldn’t miss. The fact that the Cavs left him wide open only exacerbated matters.
The Cavs began the second quarter with a modest 27-23 lead and a five of Donald Sloan, Daniel Gibson, CJ Miles, Luke Walton and Tyler Zeller. Two minutes into the quarter, the Bucks had a 10-0 run and 33-27 advantage. The Cavs trailed by as much as 41-30 before the starters righted the ship and the Cavs went into halftime trailing 55-49.
The lead would seesaw for much of the second, never growing to more than five, and I felt pretty good about the Cavs chances in the hypothetical overtime period. Jennings’ buzzer beater robbed the Cavaliers of their chance for an actual victory, leaving us only able to savor a victory of the moral variety.
The effort from these young Cavs in Milwaukee was night and day when compared to their debacle against the Bulls. Now, the Bucks aren’t on the same defensive level as Chicago, but teams coached by Scott Skiles aren’t exactly known to be soft on that end of the floor either. It was nice to see the Cavs compete on their first road game of the year, not to mention their first back-to-back.
Crazy close buzzer beater losses to potential playoff teams on the road, those I can handle. Watching garbage time for three quarters is a whole different pill to swallow.
The fan angst over Dion Waiters seems to have subsided. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen thus far from Dion. He finished with 13 points (5-12 FG, 1-2 3pt, 2-4 FT), he’s not forcing things and he seems to enjoy taking (and making) those momentum breaking buckets. I’m pleasantly surprised to see how calm and within himself Waiters is playing. If anything, I’d like to see him be more aggressive. But that’s a small quibble. So far, so good for the fourth overall pick.
CJ Miles needs to calm down. And make a basket. CJ played 16 minutes, missed all six of his shots and finished a single rebound and an assist. Not good. Of everyone on this deplorable second unit, Miles is the only one who can create his own shot or score on the move. Sloan sets up, Zeller and Gibson spot up and Walton.. well, I’m not sure what Walton does. Miles is their offense and in three games as a Cavalier, he’s a dreadful 4-22 from floor with 10 total points and not a single free throw attempt. I can’t really judge him until he stops pressing and just starts playing his game.
Alonzo Gee had his best game of the year. Gee finished 18 points, 3 boards and 6 (!!) assists. Alonzo made his decisions quickly, he didn’t force bad shots and he actually passed the ball in transition.
At least one of the starters has to be on the court at all times, preferably either Waiters or Kyrie. Thus far, Byron is using a ten-man rotation and I don’t care for it. The second unit has been just brutal thus far and as much as it pains Scott to admit it, Waiters is clearly the second best point guard on the roster. I don’t think Donald Sloan has played poorly (he’s been the best of the bench bunch) but Sloan is simply running the offense, not breaking down the defense and setting up easy shots for his teammates. Byron staggered the bench minutes in the second half and the results speak for themselves.
Anderson Varejao is really good. It’s really fun to root for this guy. Varejao finished with 20 points and 17 boards and his energy, as usual, was just awesome. Anderson scored in a variety of ways; he hit open jumpers, he got put backs and he even had this weird dribble drive, spin move hook shot thing. Ok, I don’t want him doing that very often but that may have made my night.
Skinny Samardo Samuels: DNP-CD. Not that I had crazy high expectations for Samsam this year, but I’m a little concerned that he has two DNPs in three games. I don’t know if he’s in Byron’s doghouse or what, but if dude can’t break into this particular bench unit… yikes.
Tyler Zeller looks like a rookie big man. The game still looks a little fast for Big Zed (he badly rushed a jump hook) but I think he’ll be fine. His jumper looks solid but he’s going to need to get bigger/stronger/sturdier down low if he’s going to be able to rebound against good teams.
The Cavs face the Clippers on Monday night in Los Angeles, tip-off is 10:30 PM.