CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff used the term resilience to describe the team’s six-game road trip. They showed it again on Saturday. Only it was not enough.
The understaffed Cavaliers, playing without seven players for the second straight game, capped their grueling 10-day trip with a 100-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs went 2-4 on the longest road trip of the season – a respectable mark given the obstacles they faced.
On Saturday night, all Bickerstaff wanted was a chance in the fourth quarter. He asked his team to make it a choppy, physical and ugly match. Playing against the top ranked offense in the league, the Cavs were not going to win a game with high scores.
Down 19 points at one point in the first half, the Cavs leaped back to tie the game with a sprint of 21-2. But the Bucks responded with a 10-0 run to finish the half, taking a locker room lead.
The Cavs kept pushing. They made the Bucks – playing back-to-back back-to-back reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo who suffered a frightening fall the night before and had back spasms – uncomfortable all night, holding them back 44% of the field and 33% of Range 3 points. They forced 16 turnovers. Still, they could never get over the bump. Their only lead came two minutes into the game.
“They gave us what they had tonight,” Bickerstaff said. “Asking the guys to play heavy minutes, carry heavy loads, and they gave up and they competed. We just couldn’t craft enough points. I thought our defense was strong, but we just struggled to make points and find easy buckets tonight.
André Drummond scored 26 points to go with 24 rebounds in 41 minutes, his 10th straight game with a double-double to open the season.
“I think it’s a matter of him being a force initiator. And when he’s the force initiator, there’s no one in this league who can keep him, ”Bickerstaff said of Drummond. “I think we saw it tonight and against Memphis. When he decides to lower his chin and play with that strength, he is impossible to keep. This makes his arrivals easier, he should go more to the free throw line. I think there were opportunities for some and a few or at least a few whistles tonight that he didn’t get. But if he continues, he will receive those calls and hit the free throw line even further.
Damyean Dotson, again playing out of position at the point guard, has 21 points and eight assists on an ankle that is still below 100%. Larry Nance Jr. scored 17 points. He also added to his league-leading steals total with four others.
Milwaukee was led by Khris Middleton, who rebounded from a slow start to finish with a high of 27 points. Bobby Portis, starting from Antetokounmpo’s usual spot, finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists.
During the road trip, the Cavs rallied against Atlanta and Memphis, showing off their makeup. They dealt with injuries, used unconventional queues, and asked some guys more than usual. Collin Sexton was inactive for his second straight game with a left ankle injury, leaving the Cavs with two healthy guards, neither of whom are natural playmakers.
Considering everything they’ve encountered away from Cleveland, the Cavs had many built-in excuses. But I never used them. They can get on the plane and return home with their heads held high and their chests swollen.
The Cavs are quickly becoming the team Bickerstaff envisioned at the start of the season.
“I feel really good on this team, to be honest with you,” Bickerstaff said. “The things we say that mean the most to us, our guys kept showing. They are competitive, they are altruistic, they are together. We have just encountered something that is difficult to overcome. We put ourselves in position. We obviously had to make huge adjustments on the fly when it came to the game plan, the style of play and that sort of thing. And the guys bought and gave it their all. So we just keep playing this way, we’re healthy, we’re going to be tough every night.
Drummond became the first Cavalier to record a 20-20 match since Anderson Varejao in 2012.
Second chance points
The Bucks entered the game sixth in second chance points. They showed why, using their length, athleticism and activity, they had 11 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second chance points.
The Cavs will return home for the first time in the New Year, hosting the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. The tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
New Cavs Face Masks For Sale: Here’s where you can purchase Cleveland Cavaliers-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($ 14.99) and a 3-pack ($ 24.99). All NBA profits have been donated to charity
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