This was a game the Bucks had to win if they want to make the playoffs. With due respect to the professional status of the Cleveland Cavaliers, domination was advisable if Milwaukee expects its quest for the postseason to be taken seriously.
Apparently, the players indeed mean business. This one was over early.
The Bucks (24-27) held a 35-26 lead after a hot-shooting first quarter for both teams. Ludicrous as it might sound, the evening’s outcome was decided when Milwaukee went on a 20-1 run in the opening six minutes of the second quarter. The rest of the 121-84 romp was purely for show.
The Bucks set a new season-high for points, eclipsing their previous best of 120 from two weeks ago. It was Milwaukee’s third win over Cleveland (17-32) this season and their sixth straight overall against the Cavaliers. The victory coupled with New York’s loss in Atlanta left the Bucks 1 ½ games behind the Knicks with 15 to play.
Brandon Jennings had 28 points and six assists, while Ersan Ilyasova had 20 points and 10 rebounds in only 23 minutes. The early blowout afforded coach Scott Skiles the luxury of resting his starters in the fourth quarter. The respite should prove useful as the Bucks prepare to host a talented Memphis squad tomorrow night. The Grizzlies lost in Houston Friday.
It was evident early on that the Bucks would have their way in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving is a stud (his 29 led all scorers), Tristan Thompson is going to have a nice career and Antawn Jamison has been a solid pro for a long time, but the Cavs just aren’t ready for a playoff run. They did the right thing trading Ramon Sessions for picks at the deadline.
The Bucks are running and gunning for the postseason right now, and they set the tone from the start by pushing the pace with controlled abandon, making crisp passes and torching the nets. Milwaukee shot 57% overall and 10-of-16 from three-point range. They had 32 assists and just six turnovers.
Cleveland proved unable to disrupt Milwaukee’s offensive sets, and the Bucks made them pay. The Bucks are now 14-3 this season against teams ranked eighth or lower in the standings; with nine such games remaining, the trend must continue.
The Bucks’ game since the trade has been to play fast, smart and loose. They no longer must prove they can succeed on the road, having won six of seven. Andrew Bogut’s health and psyche are no longer their concern. The biggest worry might be that they are only 5-9 in their last 14 home games, but lesser competition should remedy that.
Memphis presents a formidable challenge, but after rocking Cleveland, Milwaukee should come in feeling confident. A victory over a good team would boost their confidence to another level.
You might even say a playoff level.