Banged up, battered and bruised, the Milwaukee Bucks found a way to get the job done yet again.
Playing down three players, with three more fighting to play through injuries and illness, Milwaukee won its fourth straight game. Forcing 27 turnovers, the most by an opponent since 2003, the Bucks did just enough to squeak out a 90-86 victory in Cleveland.
While the headlines will rightfully belong to Monta Ellis’ season-high 33 points, Ersan Ilyasova’s contribution was just as important. Looking more and more like the player he was last season, Ilyasova battled inside, keeping balls alive and creating extra possessions in the fourth quarter.
With 3:06 left and the Bucks up 84-80, Ilyasova drew a big charge on Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving. On the other end, Ilyasova scrapped in the paint to keep an offensive rebound alive, tipping it to Larry Sanders who then found Ellis for a baseline jumper and a big four-point swing.
“The charge was big,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “He was very, very good. I thought he made a lot of effort plays tonight. I thought he stood out from an effort standpoint.”
Ilyasova has looked like a different player since moving to the bench. When Ellis missed a 7-footer with 31 seconds left and the Bucks up, 87-82, Ilyasova again kept the ball alive, tipping it to Sanders and forcing the Cavaliers to foul.
“Always when I step out on the floor, it is to give 100 percent,” Ilyasova said. “They had a small player on me and they switched on the pick-and-roll, so that’s when I tried to get an advantage on the offensive glass. Those plays give us a chance to win the game.”
Ilyasova was an unsung hero, but Ellis was the obvious hero. Without him the Bucks wouldn’t have won. Sensing that none of his teammates were shooting the ball well, Ellis took over, scoring 20 of his 33 points in the second half, including nine of Milwaukee’s 18 fourth-quarter points.
“I just take what they give me,” Ellis said. “My shot was falling tonight. It’s always been one of those things where you have to see how you’re going. I great rhythm early in the game and got fouled and made some free throws to get myself going.”
Ellis finished 12 of 24 from the field, but the rest of the Bucks shot just 35.5 percent.
“We’ve struggled to shoot the ball the last couple games,” Skiles said. “We’ve had periods during the game where we are shooting the ball., or one guy or two (guys are), but as a team we haven’t been great.”
And though a four-point victory over a team with a 5-18 record isn’t going to earn many style points, Cleveland is undoubtedly better than its record now that Irving is back.
Now it’s on to the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. It’ll be tough enough for the Bucks to end Los Angeles’ eight-game winning streak, but the Clippers will be fully rested, having been off since Wednesday.