Love being back boosts Cavs’ bench bunch

Jordan Clarkson and the Cavaliers were hot early, but faded in the second half in a loss to the Pelicans.

Aside from the obvious, one of biggest benefits of players coming back from injury is in doing so, they lengthen a team’s bench.

Solid bench play was huge when the Cleveland Cavaliers went on a 13-game winning streak earlier this season, stretching it to 18 victories in a 19-game stretch.

Kevin Love’s return after a 21-game absence because of a broken hand had a ripple effect on the Cavs in their 114-107 conquest of the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

It allowed rookie center Ante Zizic to come off the bench, and the Cleveland subs played a huge part in securing the win, outscoring their Milwaukee counterparts, 38-28.

Cleveland (40-29) built a 93-85 lead through three quarters, but Milwaukee (37-33) seemed primed to make things more interesting as LeBron James began the fourth quarter on the bench. Meanwhile, the Bucks had several starters on the floor, including Giannis Antenokounmpo.

In less than three minutes, though, the Cavaliers’ second unit built their eight-point cushion to 14 and the Bucks’ fate was all but sealed.

“It did hurt us a lot,” Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks with 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, admitted. “They had the second unit in and that was the chance for us to get some easy points and make a run but we didn’t.”

And then, of course, James, who finished another spectacular performance — 40 points on 16-of-29 shooting, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and a block in 40 minutes, pushing his career-high for triple-doubles to 16 for the season, his third in the last four games — returned for the kill.

Jordan Clarkson, as usual, led the Cleveland bench bunch, scoring 17 points, including cashing in on 3-of-7 from beyond the 3-point line, and added two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 28 minutes.

The aforementioned Zizic continued his string of solid play with 13 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot in 17 minutes. J.R. Smith (5 points, 3 rebounds 1 assist in 23 minutes) and Jose Calderon (5 points, 3 boards, 2 dimes in 18 minutes) also made contributions off the Cleveland bench.

With Tristan Thompson (right ankle), Rodney Hood (lower back), Larry Nance Jr. (right hamstring) and Cedi Osman (left hip) slated to make their returns sooner than later, the Cleveland bench bunch will be strengthened and enhanced even more.