MILWAUKEE: Byron Scott reminded his players Wednesday morning of the opportunity in front of them. With the Cavs locked in a tight playoff race against the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks – and a total of five head-to-head games remaining against the two – now would be a great time to find another hot streak.
Instead, the Cavs continued to struggle against the East’s best in their 115-105 loss at Bradley Center on Wednesday.
"The opportunity is there," Scott said. "It’s just a matter of us going out there and taking advantage of it."
The Bucks smashed the Cavs in rebounds 49-34, attacked the basket with 58 points in the paint and were superior in the post – a bit of a surprise given how they’ll soon be a team with a dominant backcourt.
They dealt the injured Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday for a package that included Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh.
Ellis and Brandon Jennings will soon form a devastating scoring backcourt, but not until Ellis is activated. Both Ellis and Udoh were at the arena on Wednesday, but neither dressed for the game. Turns out, the Bucks didn’t need them.
Drew Gooden had a triple-double, and tied his career high in assists (13) by the end of the third quarter, Luc Mbah a Moute had 12 points and 13 rebounds off the bench and the Bucks dominated the final three quarters for a big win that carried playoff implications.
With the Bucks at least temporarily replacing the Knicks as the eighth playoff seed in the East, the Cavs fell to 2-12 against the top eight teams in the conference. Worse yet, the Knicks smashed the Portland Trail Blazers in Mike Woodson’s coaching debut in New York, meaning the Cavs lost ground to both of the teams they’re chasing.
Kyrie Irving had 28 points and five assists and Alonzo Gee had 19 points, but the Cavs’ defense disappeared after forcing six turnovers in the first quarter and the Bucks quickly took control.
In a perfect illustration to the night, Ramon Sessions stole a pass with the Cavs down 10 and nine minutes left in the game when he sprinted the other way for an easy layup. Only he botched the shot, Samardo Samuels missed the tip and the Bucks grabbed the rebound heading the other way.
For the second consecutive night, the Cavs didn’t play much defense in the second quarter and it again cost them. The Raptors scored 33 points in the second quarter on Tuesday and the Bucks followed with a 34-point quarter on Wednesday, leading to a 57-55 Cavs deficit at the half.
The Bucks scored 11 points within the first three minutes of the second quarter against the Cavs’ bench Wednesday, erasing a 28-23 Cavs lead at the start of the quarter and forcing Scott to quickly call a timeout.
It didn’t get any better the rest of the night.
Gooden had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, securing the triple-double by the end of the third quarter, and Ersan Ilyasova had 22 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 4:27 to play.
Daniel Gibson had 18 points off the bench for the Cavs, who lost their fourth straight in the series to the Bucks.
It doesn’t get any easier now for the Cavs, who have three days off before returning home to host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. After that is a three-game road trip at Atlanta, New Jersey and Orlando against teams that could look drastically different, depending on what the Magic decide to do with Dwight Howard.
In the meantime, the Cavs need to find a way to start beating the better opponents in the Eastern Conference if they’re going to make a legitimate playoff push over the season’s final six weeks.