Much more difficult to explain is how that unconventional, never-before-seen group helped Cleveland rally for a thrilling 113-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in front of 15,098 stunned fans.
“Thank God for our second unit tonight,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “They won the game for us. It’s that simple.”
Down 20 points midway through the third period, Cleveland’s starters went on a 9-0 run late and the Cavs got within 90-81 after three.
But without the bench bunch — and the unconventional bench bunch at that — Kyrie Irving’s 35 points would have meant nothing and Cleveland (12-32) would not have three straight wins at The Q for the first time since November 2010.
“We were going to play as hard as we could,” said Ellington, who made his Cavs debut after being acquired in a trade with Memphis on Tuesday. “Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
That may be as good an explanation as any for what happened in the fourth quarter, when the Cavs outscored the Bucks 32-18.
Milwaukee (22-19), which shot .614 from the field (27-for-44) while scoring 69 points over the middle quarters, went 7-for-25 from the field in the final period, when it hit two of nine 3-pointers after going 12-for-19 over the first three quarters.
“You had a bunch of guys out there that had a wealth of experience and know how to play the game,” Scott said. “I think that helped.
“We have a 30-minute film session tomorrow on, ‘This is how you play defense,’” he added. “Then we’ll have another one on, ‘This is what happens when you don’t.’”
The Cavs ultimately got the job done because they played hard and played together. It was a lesson that should not be lost on some of their younger, more-talented, but sometimes less-focused players.
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Speights, also making his Cleveland debut after being acquired in the Memphis trade, had 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes, with three of his field goals coming on twisting shots that somehow banked in.
Despite not yet having practiced with his new team, the 25-year-old had eight points, four rebounds and two steals while playing the entire fourth quarter.
“The first time I got in things were going 100 mph,” he said. “The second time I got in I felt real good.”
Livingston, who played for the Bucks a year ago, added a season-high 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting — he had six points in the final period — and soon-to-be 33-year-old Luke Walton was all over the place while putting up five points, five rebounds and, for the second straight game, seven assists.
Ellington chased Mike Dunleavy all over the court in the final quarter and limited him to one field goal. The shooting guard also hit a 3-pointer that put the Cavs up for good, 96-95, with 6:33 left.
Even Daniel Gibson, whose first four shots consisted of two airballs and two others that barely grazed the rim, managed to hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final quarter.
The unconventional group was playing such inspired basketball that Scott didn’t want to sub, but he finally put Irving in for Livingston with 4:01 left in the game. At that point the Cavs were up 102-95 and had outscored the Bucks 21-5 in the fourth. At the 1:48 mark, Alonzo Gee came in for a gassed Walton.
“Luke was about to fall out,” Scott said. “Shaun was about to fall out. I thought, ‘I better get those guys out. They’ve done a great job of getting us the lead.’”
Irving, who had eight points in the final 2:19 and finished the night 12-for-17 from the field while playing without his protective mask for the first time in 20 games, helped the Cavs bring home their third win in the last four games.
The Bucks had their three-game winning streak snapped despite a season-high 30 points from Ersan Ilyasova, who had 15 in the second period and made five of six threes on the night.
Monta Ellis had 21 points, six boards and nine assists for Milwaukee and Brandon Jennings had 14 points and 12 assists, but the two guards went 2-for-13 from the field and committed five fouls during the Bucks’ fourth-quarter collapse.
The key to everything, though, was Cleveland’s fourth-quarter lineup, which helped the Cavs win on a night when Tristan Thompson’s 18 points and Dion Waiters’ 16 could have easily meant nothing.
“I felt the energy,” Speights said. “The crowd was great and my team went out there and played hard.
“I’m glad Coach rode with us and I’m glad we got a win.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cavaliers 113, Bucks 108
MILWAUKEE (108): Mbah a Moute 4-6 0-0 9, Ilyasova 11-21 3-4 30, Sanders 7-11 0-1 14, Jennings 5-19 0-1 14, Ellis 8-20 3-4 21, Dunleavy 1-6 1-2 4, Udoh 2-2 1-1 5, Henson 2-2 0-0 4, Udrih 3-5 0-0 7. Totals 43-92 8-13 108.
CLEVELAND (113): Gee 1-5 0-0 2, Thompson 8-14 2-2 18, Zeller 3-8 0-0 6, Irving 12-17 9-9 35, Waiters 6-12 3-3 16, Gibson 2-6 0-1 6, Walton 2-4 1-3 5, Livingston 6-8 0-0 12, Speights 4-7 2-4 10, Casspi 0-1 0-0 0, Ellington 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 45-86 17-22 113.
Milwaukee 21 38 31 18 — 108
Cleveland 18 32 31 32 — 113
3-Point Goals—Milwaukee 14-28 (Ilyasova 5-6, Jennings 4-10, Ellis 2-4, Udrih 1-2, Mbah a Moute 1-2, Dunleavy 1-4), Cleveland 6-15 (Irving 2-3, Gibson 2-5, Waiters 1-2, Ellington 1-3, Walton 0-1, Gee 0-1). Fouled Out—Jennings. Rebounds—Milwaukee 48 (Sanders 11), Cleveland 52 (Gee 8). Assists—Milwaukee 34 (Jennings 12), Cleveland 27 (Walton 7). Total Fouls—Milwaukee 20, Cleveland 17. Technicals—Cleveland defensive three second. A—15,098 (20,562).