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Spida stars again as Cavs knock off Bucks


Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Cavaliers (22-11) had been bested by the Milwaukee Bucks (22-9) twice this season coming into their third tilt, this time at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, fueling the fire of the most widespread critique of the Cavaliers this season: they can't beat good teams. They dispelled that myth on Wednesday night, with a convincing 114-106 win over the team that entered the night as the top seed in the Eastern conference.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Cleveland made it clear from the tip that they weren't messing around, as for the second straight game they piled it on in the early going, this time leading by 15 when the first horn sounded, and 18 at the half. The quick Cavaliers start can be attributed to sharing the basketball and knocking down three-pointers. Despite Donovan Mitchell's rough first half - 3/10 from the field and 1/5 from three - a balanced attack featuring six players with at least five points each helped the Cavs jump all over Milwaukee, particularly in the first quarter, after which the Wine and Gold had opened up a 15 point lead. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen were the primary catalysts for the pre-break dominance, but they were supported by efficient shooting halves by fill-in starter Isaac Okoro and the longest tenured Cavalier in Cedi Osman, along with grizzled veteran Kevin Love, who pitched in with a couple of deep balls.

The most important aspect of the half for Cleveland, however, was their uncharacteristic willingness to get out and run in transition. And no play embodied that development more than Love playing quarterback, sending a pass about 90 feet downcourt to Cedi Osman for an open layup, reminiscent of when Love found LeBron James on a similar pass just a few years ago against the Washington Wizards. The tempo adjustment likely caught Mike Budenholzer's Bucks off guard since the Cavs ranked dead last in the league in pace coming into the matchup.

Things slowed back down for the better part of the second half, though, including in the third quarter, which has been pivotal when these two teams have matched up this year. In the first two meetings, Cleveland scored 28 third quarter points combined. But Wednesday night, they put up 33. The Bucks did pour in 35 points of their own in the third, but the Cavs stellar offensive effort was an important difference maker, unlike their past performances. Those 33 points were racked up despite the majority of the contributors to the balanced scoring effort seeing far fewer of their shots fall after the intermission. So who kept the Cavs afloat? Who else, but Donovan Mitchell. The man they call Spida racked up 15 third quarter points en route to a total of 36 on the night, coming up big when his team needed him most.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Even 36 points weren't enough for Mitchell to secure a spot as the night's highest scorer, however. Giannis Antetokounmpo proved to be everything he's advertised as and more once again, putting up an authoritative 41 points, which paired well with his 14 boards. His only problem: he got no help. Milwaukee's second leading scorer was Brook Lopez with 14, which ultimately wasn't enough assistance to drag the Bucks to a win.

The Deer gave Cleveland a couple of scares in the final quarter, trimming the Cavs lead to as little as six points, but the Cavaliers closed it out led by Donovan Mitchell, as has become the norm in The Land. The win should serve as a weight lifted off the Cavs' shoulders, with Jarrett Allen telling Bally Sports' Serena Winters postgame that the team "needed it." Not only was it a confidence booster, but it also moved Cleveland within one game of first place in the East, and prevented the Bucks from clinching the season series, which can become relevant as a seeding tiebreaker come playoff time.



Takeaways:


- Donovan Mitchell proved that he can catch fire at any time, no matter how grim things are looking for him on any given night.


- Giannis Antetokounmpo is the toughest player in the league to stop on a night-to-night basis.


- Isaac Okoro has continued to impress, now in his third straight start due to Lamar Stevens' knee injury. Okoro is finally playing the way he was expected to coming into camp this year.


- The Bucks have two legitimate candidates for Defensive Player of the Year in Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.


- The Cavs have an overabundance of "mid" wings. Okoro, Stevens, Caris LeVert, and Dean Wade have all made starting appearances at small forward this season, and that's before Dylan Windler comes back into the fold as well. Look for one or two of them to be moved at the deadline.


- LeVert's season has been a roller coaster this year, and he's currently on a major downhill portion of the ride


- Props to Kevin Love, who has provided the Cavs with solid minutes off the bench lately while playing with a broken thumb

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Facts and Figures:


- The Bucks had zero assists as a team until about midway through the second quarter


- The Bucks had 19 turnovers to the Cavs 10


- The Cavaliers are extending their lead for best home record in the Association. They're now 16-2 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.


- Donovan Mitchell has now scored 30+ points in 16 of the 29 games he's played in for the Cavs


- Cleveland is now riding a five game win streak, including their last four at home


- The Cavaliers .667 win percentage is their best since 2016


Game MVP: Donovan Mitchell


Donovan Mitchell's rough first half appeared to be setting up the Cavs for a rare game in which they won in spite of Mitchell, not because of him. Instead, Mitchell caught fire in the second half, leading his new team to victory with 26 points after the break. The Louisville product and former Jazz star supplemented his scoring output with four rebounds, six assists, and a pair of steals, providing the Cavaliers with the lift they needed to stave off a late Milwaukee surge.


Cavs Next Game: Dec. 23 vs Raptors


Before a couple days off over the holidays, the Cavaliers will have to face their rival Toronto Raptors, who much like the Bucks, will visit Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for the first time this season after taking two victories at home against Cleveland.


Follow Along: Be sure to follow @Cavs_District on Twitter for in-game updates, live analysis, team stats, and more!

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