Don’t you wish the Cavs could play the Milwaukee Bucks every night? Friday night felt like a beautiful dream compared to the rest of this dreadful half of a season.
Please go read Ben’s post from earlier today where he destroyed every single piece of this organization. It summarizes all of the depressing storylines with some great tweets, photos and captions too.
That post is necessary reading as a prelude for tonight’s recap. You see, the Cavs won an actual regular season NBA game 93-78 tonight. But they played the now-8-34 Milwaukee Bucks, a team that’s managed to be two games worse than the second-worst team in the Year of Tanking.
This game was mostly positive. The context from Ben’s post simply is necessary. And thanks to Ben as well for inviting me along with him tonight.
2-for-2 – Let’s start with the ending. Anthony Bennett made both of his free throw attempts in the final minute of the game. He also grabbed three (only offensive) rebounds. Both of those things mean that … yes … Bennett played! It was his first contest since earning a minute of mop-up duty in the blowout win over Utah two weeks ago. Tonight, he received five minutes. Sure, he was 0-for-4 from the court with two missed dunks, three personal fouls and a turnover. But at least he’s playing. This whole “he’ll get opportunities” but “we’re not sending him to the D-League” thing is so strange to me. The 19-year-old just needs playing time.
10 and 0 – For just the second time in his career, Kyrie Irving had 10 assists and zero turnovers tonight. He also did so last month in that heart-breaking home loss against Portland and Damian Lillard. Head coach Mike Brown also credited Irving’s defense on Brandon Knight (eight points, three assists) – perhaps Irving’s chief rival in the NBA. The All-Star starter only scored 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but that’s really all the Cavaliers needed. Heck, it was only his fifth double-digit assist performance in 40 games this season. If Irving the distributor can show up more regularly, that’s amazing news for this team’s future development.
21 – The Cavs dominated the offensive glass against the athletic-yet-small Bucks frontcourt. Overall, Cleveland corralled 21 offensive rebounds against only 26 defensive boards for Milwaukee. That’s a very impressive performance. Surprisingly as well, Anderson Varejao only had one of those 21 rebounds. Tristan Thompson grabbed five, Luol Deng had three and Tyler Zeller had four on his way to a very productive evening. Dion Waiters tied a career-high with eight total rebounds. Against smaller frontcourts, the Varejao-Thompson-led frontcourt can have an absolute field day on the glass. They did so last Friday against the Nuggets. They did so again tonight.
-11 in 3 minutes – Now, time for the ranting: WHAT WAS MIKE BROWN DOING? In the first quarter with 3:09 to play and the Cavs already up by 12, Brown brought in Henry Sims off the bench for Varejao. Normally, this is where Zeller enters the game for the first time. Of course, Sims hadn’t played in over a week either. But there he was, racking up three embarrassing first-quarter minutes en route to a very quick -11 plus-minus. The Cavs actually had a lineup of Sims-Earl Clark-Jarrett Jack-Dion Waiters-Matthew Dellavedova out there in the first. It made absolutely no sense. Perhaps it lit a fire under Zeller as he ended up with a good game? There’s still no logical explanation for this. I’m incredulous no one asked Brown about this in his post-game interview.
8-for-11 – Varejao’s offensive game was a fun story as he helped Irving rack up the assists. On the night, Varejao was 8-for-11 shooting with only four rebounds – his fewest in several weeks as he had averaged 14.2 in his last 15 games entering Friday. On the season, the 31-year-old Brazlian is shooting 57-for-117 (48.7%) from mid-range. That’s second-best in the NBA behind Luis Scola (49.4%) among players with at least 105 such attempts. Before the season, I infamously called out Varejao to stop shooting so many long-range shots. Shucks. His floor spacing and passing have been integral components to a mildly improved Cavaliers offense. The team is dreadful without him. (Although you could still convince him into trading him since the organizational direction is so cloudy, but I’m trying to be positive.)
4-for-23 – Before the game, if you were to ask me which Milwaukee offensive players I’m most worried about putting up a Taj Gibson-Mike Dunleavy-DJ Augustin-esque statlines, I would have said: Ersan Ilyasova, Caron Butler and Luke Ridnour. Those three combined to go just 4-for-23 from the field for just 11 points. Maybe the Cavs actually scouted out their opponents to take away their mid-range shooting? Maybe that’s giving them too much credit after Wednesday’s piss-poor defensive showing? These are three dangerously streaky shooters – Ilyasova was an emerging stretch 4 just recently, Butler had 30 on Wednesday and Ridnour is one of the NBA’s best mid-range guys. They were hardly visible tonight.
Again, this game wasn’t the prettiest. But it was a thorough victory. After that brief Henry Sims-induced first-quarter collapse, the Cavs were consistently up by double-digits. The Bucks are intriguing team because of their versatility – THE GREEK FREAK and LARRY SANDERS! together – but they’re just not any good. The Cavs played down to their level at times, coughing the ball up, not playing much real offense and being lazy defensively. It just didn’t matter in the end.
Next up: The Phoenix Suns on Sunday. They’re missing up-and-coming star Eric Bledsoe. Yet they are somehow 24-18 and one of the NBA’s best stories this season. They lost at home tonight to Washington. Most notably, they really don’t have a significant weak spot in their rotation. Goran Dragic is a near All-Star, Miles Plumlee has been phenomenal and they just get significant production out of all of their other sleeper players. It should be a fun and interesting matchup to watch.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.