CLEVELAND (AP) — The short-handed Milwaukee Bucks needed someone to step up Friday night.
Monta Ellis gave them his best game of the season.
Ellis scored a season-high 33 points and the Bucks recorded their season-high fourth straight win with a 90-86 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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“Monta obviously had a hot hand and kept us in it offensively,” Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. “He obviously had it going.”
Ellis, who scored 20 points in the second half, was 12 for 24 from the field and was at his best late. He scored 10 points in the final 6 minutes of the third quarter after the Cavaliers took a brief lead and then held off Cleveland’s last charge in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Miles’ 3-pointer cut the lead to 80-78 with 5:26 to play, but Ellis scored on a layup, hit two free throws and made a jumper to stretch the lead to 86-80 with 2:41 remaining.
“I just took what the defense gave me, it was pretty simple,” he said. “I tried to come off screens and make a play for myself or for someone else.”
The Bucks, who recorded their ninth straight victory over the Cavaliers, left three players in Milwaukee because of injuries. Three others were either coming off an injury or an illness that’s been going around the team.
Kyrie Irving scored 26 points to lead Cleveland, which committed a season-high 27 turnovers. The Cavaliers have lost seven of eight and 11 of 13.
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott admitted this was probably the most frustrated he’s been over a loss all season and couldn’t explain his team’s lack of energy.
“I have no idea,” Scott said. “If I knew that I’d bottle it up and make a lot of money because I have no idea. We had a good day this morning going through stuff, a day off yesterday, so there’s no reason in the world to come out with a lack of energy.”
Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao, the league’s leading rebounder, left the game in the first half after sustaining a contusion to his lower left leg. X-rays taken at halftime were negative and Varejao came back in the game early in the third quarter. He had eight points and 18 rebounds.
Irving played 36 minutes despite taking a nasty fall in the first quarter when he was knocked to the court on a hard foul while going to the basket. He drove down the lane and was defended by Luc Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders. Mbah a Moute was called for the foul, but it was a hit from Sanders that leveled Irving, who landed on the left side of his face. He was down for a couple of minutes, but got to his feet and took the free throws, making both.
Irving was removed at the end of the quarter and sat on the bench with a towel on his face, but played his usual number of minutes. A team spokesman said Irving underwent a precautionary examination following the game, but would accompany the team to New York for Saturday’s game against the Knicks.
Brandon Jennings added 16 points for the Bucks. Sanders (sinus infection) and Ekpe Udoh (sprained left wrist), who both missed Wednesday’s game against Sacramento, returned. Sanders had 10 points and 10 rebounds while Ersan Ilyasova had 11 points.
Milwaukee never trailed in the first half and built a 16-point lead in the second quarter. The Bucks led 52-43 at halftime, but Irving scored nine points in the first 4 minutes of the third quarter to help the Cavaliers rally. Miles hit two free throws with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter to put Cleveland ahead 57-56, the Cavaliers’ first lead of the game.
Miles scored 17 points for Cleveland, which has lost 17 of 20. The Cavaliers broke a five-game losing streak by beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, but have dropped their last two.
A moment of silence was observed before the game for the victims of the shooting incident at an elementary school in Newton, Conn.
NOTES: Rookie G Doron Lamb, who has had the flu, arrived in Cleveland on a 4 p.m. flight and played 6 scoreless minutes in the first half. … G Beno Udrih (sprained right ankle), F Tobias Harris (lacerated right elbow) and G Mike Dunleavy (bruised left knee) all remained in Milwaukee. … Cleveland G Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle) missed his seventh straight game. Scott said Waiters won’t play Saturday against New York, but is expected to return Tuesday when Cleveland hosts Toronto. … F Omri Casspi missed his second straight game with the stomach flu.