CLEVELAND, Ohio – During a turnaround season filled with uncontrollable mishaps, the Cavaliers finally got a much-needed break in Sunday’s finals of the regular season. They used big and locked Eastern Conference No. 8 seed on their way into the play-in tournament.
The Cavs beat the resting Milwaukee Bucks, 133-115, in front of a sold-out audience that received the gift of history at Fan Appreciation Night.
“They just played the game with goals,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said. “Times this year we have been in circumstances where we did not play the match with 48 minutes of goal. Tonight I thought they did a great job of getting out and setting the tone and playing the game the way we needed to play it – with that sense of purpose and attention to detail. “
Reigning champion Bucks, already familiar with their playoff seeding, rested their best players. Giannis Antetokunmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis were ruled out before the tipoff. Olympian Jrue Holiday went out 8 seconds inside the game, and only started to reach a lucrative contract bonus. Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews did not play either. Bucks’ aim is for another title. The game was over before it started.
Milwaukee’s D-Team had no chance compared to the motivated Cavaliers, who were thinking of ending the season on a positive note while ensuring a more favorable play-in place.
Based on the current format, Nos. 7-10 will compete in the play-in tournament, which starts on Tuesday.
The seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets will host the eighth-seeded Cavs, with the winner claiming No. 7 in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The loser advances to another play-in match against the winner of the 9-10 match between Atlanta and Charlotte. The winner moves up to No. 8 spot in the East playoffs.
With Sunday’s resounding triumph, the Cavs will get two bites in the playoffs. They line up to host at least one post-season game.
“They have to enjoy it. That’s what tonight is for. They should enjoy and understand the guys who’ve been here before me, and the highlights of where we’re going, and then the opportunity to get back to where we are, Said the Bickerstaff. “The guys who came here with me who have struggled through all this to get to where we are, they should appreciate it and not take it for granted. These opportunities, and that’s what I want our guys to understand, they are not promised, they are not guaranteed. “
Can they bottle Sunday’s performance?
Cleveland scored the first 14 points, leading by double-digit less than three minutes inside the game. By the end of the historic first quarter, the Cavs had rolled in 46, making the franchise record with points on a quarter. Their advantage of 26 points at the end of the first was their biggest margin in the opening quarter since 2010. The 10 3-pointers were the most in any quarter this season.
At the end of the first half, the Cavs were ahead by 33 points – their biggest break lead since 2016. It eventually rose to a game height of 40. Near the end of the third quarter, Bickerstaff pulled most of its regular players. It was their turn to rest – until the fat Bucks trimmed the huge lead down to just 12 with about five minutes left.
When Bickerstaff understood the effort and would not take any chances with the bottom of the bench players throwing a win away, Bickerstaff put three of his starters back – Darius Garland, Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen. That trio helped push the lead back to 20 plus, a much more comfortable margin.
Veteran Kevin Love, whose remarkable turnaround has matched the Cavaliers’ this season, collected 32 points left with 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes. Love matched his career height with eight 3-pointers. He became the first player in the skudur era to record at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in under 16 minutes.
“I just did not want any apostasy from what these guys built, the starting unit built, go out there and start the game the way they did,” Love said. “We knew we were going to win. The first unit really set the tone. So for the second unit, we just really keep pushing, and at least in the first quarter, we set a franchise record, I think.”
Rookie Evan Mobley finished with 18 points and 10 boards. His 21st double-double is a draw as the fourth most of a rookie in franchise history. Markkanen chipped in with 23 points in 21 minutes. Garland added 11 points and eight assists in 23 minutes.
The Bucks used only seven players. Sandro Mamukelashvili (who?) Had a hold-high 28 points. Thansis Antetokounmpo finished with 27. Jordan Nwora added 24.
The second half was mostly a formality. Cleveland did what was needed Sunday. It did what should be done against a much smaller opponent.
The Cavs have already exceeded outside expectations this season. For the first time since 2018, their season did not end quietly with the final. Instead, they put an end to this franchise resurrection.
There are several games to be played. It’s time for the off – season.
“We believe we can beat anyone in this league,” Bickerstaff said. “We just have to play our best basketball. We know what we face. We have a lot of respect for Brooklyn, we have a lot of respect for the individuals, the coaching staff, but we just want to play our best. Let’s play our best. , match them and see what happens. “
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