CLEVELAND – The Cavaliers are 7-9 in the previous month, but the fact this team is maturing before our eyes may not be the most impressive thing about Friday’s 113-108 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks.
Instead, it’s how the Cavs overcame a 20-point deficit in the third quarter.
“Our second unit won the game for us,” was how Cavs coach Byron Scott put it, but even that doesn’t really do this one justice.
After all, Scott was referring to second unit that consisted of Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights.
All have their strong points, but not exactly guys who will bring back memories of Magic, Bird and Jordan. In fact, Speights and Ellington were making their debuts as Cavs after a trade with Memphis earlier in the week.
Speights finished with 10 points and six rebounds, constantly challenging the Bucks’ shot-blocking frontcourt and usually coming out on top.
Ellington, meanwhile, made just one of four shots, but his three-pointer in the fourth put the Cavs back on top to stay at 96-95.
“I thought he also did a terrific job on (Bucks guard Mike) Dunleavy,” Scott said.
That’s huge, because Dunleavy has killed the Cavs in the past and entered the game on a major hot streak — making 58 percent of his threes over the past eight games. But Dunleavy finished 1-for-4 on threes, 1-for-6 overall.
Meanwhile, Livingston is just such an intelligent and calming influence, he fits in perfectly as a coach on the court. Not bad for a guy who the Cavs claimed off waivers right around Christmas. As an added bonus, Livingston finished with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
As for Walton and Gibson, they just hustled and made the right pass or play. Gibson hit a big three while drawing a foul (although he missed the free throw). Walton finished with seven assists for the second straight game.
Oh, and by the way, Kyrie Irving finished with a game-high 35 points. He’s an All-Star. That’s expected. He also played a major role in cutting that deficit to 90-81 at the end of the third.
All of the starters did, in fact. And that wasn’t by accident.
Scott said he went on a “little tirade” at halftime, and made the starters play their way out of their early doldrums.
“I figured, ‘They got us into this mess, let’s see what they can do now,'” Scott said.
The best news of all is the Cavs’ Core Four of Irving, Thompson (18 points, six rebounds), Dion Waiters (16 points, 6-for-12 shooting) and Tyler Zeller (six points, six boards) eventually did find their way. It’s something they’re doing more and more of these days – which shows the two second-year guys (Irving and Thompson) and two rookies are progressing.
And now, the Cavs (12-32) occasionally have something to show for it. At the moment, that’s three straight home wins (and three of four overall) heading into Saturday at Toronto.
It’s not championship basketball. It’s not playoff basketball. But sometimes, it’s something about which you can get excited.
The fans did that Friday, frantically cheering and waving their arms during the comeback run, as if it were Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Their team, you see, is coming along nicely lately. And that’s all the Cavs and their fans have wanted all along.
It won’t happen every night, mind you. The Cavs are still much too young. There will still be some misery.
But, it’s a step. For this team, for this season, that’s plenty.