CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 115-100 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
1. In terms of toughness and ball movement, that was much more like it. In the NBA, it’s amazing how much easier things can be at home.
2. But for the Cavs (9-3), this was more than just feeling comfortable in their own gym after two straight losses on the road. It was deciding to play a certain way and making it happen.
3. Both LeBron James and coach David Blatt talked about the Cavs’ need to be tougher — both physically and mentally. They did that right from the beginning Thursday, with several hard, albeit usually clean, fouls when the Bucks neared the basket.
4. LeBron on the win: “We answered the call. We got better in some areas we wanted to get better in tonight.”
5. James finished with 27 points on a sizzling 9-of-13 shooting, while Kevin Love put together one of his finest games of the early season. Love finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds – including 17 and seven in the first half. The Cavs also outscored the Bucks by 15 points with Love on the floor. Fittingly, that was the final margin.
6. But what you’ll mostly read about is how Matthew Dellavedova stepped in for the injured Mo Williams at point guard, and how Delly directed the offense with precision to finish with a career-high 13 assists.
7. Blatt on Dellavedova: “What I liked about Delly’s game tonight was that he made simple plays and he made them at the right times. He played the game solidly and simply and helped his team win.”
8. Also, we’re sure to hear plenty about Anderson Varejao, who gave a fine showing off the bench in his first action in three games. Varejao sat the entire first half, and it looked like he was headed for another night glued to a chair. But then Timoefy Mozgov went down with a shoulder injury (more on that in a minute), and Varejao ripped off his warmup and entered the game in third quarter.
9. It worked out well, too. Varejao made all four of his shots for nine points, grabbed a couple of rebounds, and just generally played like his typical energetic self on defense. “Andy really gave us a lift,” was how Blatt put it.
10. This hasn’t been an easy season for Varejao — or frankly, Cavs fans. When he’s healthy, they’re used to seeing him out there for no less than 25 minutes a night. This year? Varejao is averaging five minutes, if he plays at all.
11. After the game, Varejao repeatedly admitted it’s been a difficult adjustment, “especially when you feel like you can still (contribute).”
12. But there are a few things to consider here. For one, he’s 33-years old and coming off two seasons worth of major injuries. Plus, when he went down last season (with a torn Achilles), the Cavs had yet to trade for Mozgov. That trade happened in mid-January. Now, with Mozgov, Love and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt, the big-man minutes are scarce, and someone is inevitably going to suffer.
13. J.R. Smith gave another fine showing, and seems to have emerged from his early-season shooting funk. Smith went 7-of-12 for 18 points. That included making half his eight 3-pointers.
14. Quick J.R. moment: After the game, he stood at his locker and checked out the Warriors-Clippers game on a large screen television. A couple of reporters marveled over how the Clippers’ lead approached 20 points. Smith seemed unimpressed. “The Warriors gotta lose some time,” he said. Then he paused and turned toward his locker, before turning back around and smiling. “Of course, I’d prefer it be us who beats them, but that’s just me.”
15. The Warriors, by the way, came back to win that game.
16. The Cavs finished with a whopping 29 assists on 40 made shots. When they move the ball like that … well, the results are always favorable.
17. LeBron on ball movement: “That is just how we need to play. No ifs, ands or buts. Being able to move the ball is a good ingredient for us being successful. We also had 17 turnovers, but I felt some of those turnovers were aggressive turnovers that you can live with.”
18. Meanwhile, Bucks power forward/small forward/shooting guard/and occasional center Giannis Antetokounmpo gave another exhilarating performance, scoring a career-high 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting. He was also 8-of-8 on free throws. All this and the 6-foot-11 athletic wonder doesn’t turn 22 until December.
19. Blatt on Antekokounmpo: “Those are some pretty imposing numbers. That’s a guy who has a tremendous future in this league.”
20. The Cavs were also better at the line, finishing 21-of-26. And 80 percent is a heck of a lot better than what we’ve seen most of the season. James finished 8-of-9. “It starts with me,” he said. “We’re a good free-throw shooting team. We just went through some rough stretches.”
21. Thompson added 12 points and 11 boards off the bench, and James Jones added nine. Overall, the Cavs got 39 points from the reserves, compared to 12 for the Bucks.
22. Williams was a game-time call after experiencing some leg soreness following Tuesday’s loss at Detroit. He will receive some more treatment and his status for Saturday’s home game vs. Atlanta remains up in the air.
23. Mozgov suffered a right shoulder strain in the first half. He will undergo an MRI and the Cavs will take it from there. So yes, they beat the Bucks while down at least three starters (Mozgov, Williams and Kyrie Irving) — and even a fourth if you believe Iman Shumpert will start upon returning from his wrist injury.
24. The Cavs are now 2-3 against the Central Division, 7-0 vs. the rest of the league.