CLEVELAND: At one point in Friday night’s game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Cavaliers, both teams looked as if they were cruising along in neutral — no life, no spark and no interest.
Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova started a barrage that his teammates soon followed and the Bucks looked as if they were going to blow the Cavs out of the building.
But the Cavs, moribund for the better part of three quarters, awakened and sped past the Bucks 113-108 courtesy of Kyrie Irving’s game-high 35 points along with timely defense that allowed them to come back from a 20-point third-quarter deficit and a feisty second unit that capped things off.
“Pretty simple and I told my guys this tonight. Thank God for our second unit,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I thought they came out with great effort in the first half and obviously they came out with terrific effort, defended. Not only got us back in the game, but got us the lead as well.”
The Bucks set a blistering pace from behind the 3-point line throughout three quarters, connecting on better than 63 percent into the fourth quarter.
Ilyasova’s three consecutive 3-pointers in the second quarter lit the fire that eventually put the Cavs behind by 20 points at 6:19 of the third quarter.
For those looking for defense, forget it.
This was good, old-fashioned shoot-the-lights-out street ball and any defense had to wait until it mattered most.
Until then, Irving, one of five Cavs in double figures, was left to work on the Bucks. His 14 points in the final 5:09 of the third quarter keyed an 18-5 run that cut the Bucks’ seemingly insurmountable lead to 90-81 to start the fourth quarter, giving the Cavs momentum that they seized.
When the buzzer rang for the final quarter, the Cavs’ reserves popped onto the floor.
Scott, frustrated with what had been a lethargic effort for much of the game, allowed the team’s starters to whittle away at the lead, but he relied on Daniel Gibson, Shaun Livingston, newly acquired Marreese Speights, Luke Walton and newbie Wayne Ellington to begin the fourth.
Fewer than six minutes later, the second team had grabbed a one-point lead.
“I felt the energy. The crowd was great. We got some stops and finally made some baskets,” Speights said. “We’ve been in the league a little bit longer so we have to understand how to play defense and how to get easy buckets. I’m glad coach rode us.”
Speights and Ellington came over from the Memphis Grizzlies this week in a trade. They originally weren’t expected to play until next week.
That changed before game time when Scott broke his no-practice-no-play rule.
He praised Ellington and the way he locked down the Bucks’ Mike Dunleavy in 12 minutes of play.
In his 18 minutes, Speights gave him 10 points and six rebounds off the bench.
“I was happy with the way both those guys played,” Scott said. “They really helped us win tonight.”
Scott had little idea just how much they were going to play in their Cavs debut, saying that he was going to allow the game’s flow to dictate minutes but there’s little doubt that some sense of satisfaction came with the end result.
Speights said that getting out there wasn’t very difficult.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “Coach was running plays that I knew. It’s different terms but the same plays. The first time I got in, things were going 100 miles per hour. The second time I got in, things felt good.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.