MILWAUKEE — The Cleveland Cavaliers trailed by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, and a late 19-0 run with LeBron James on the bench was not enough to avoid a 119-116 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
It was just the second defeat in the Cavs’ last 20 games and also saw an end to James’ string of three consecutive triple-doubles; he finished with 39 points, 7 assists, 1 rebound and 7 turnovers and laid on the floor in exasperation after Giannis Antetokounmpo converted an and-1 layup with 5.9 seconds to go to seal the win.
“We’re not going to win ’em all,” James said. “We already had eight losses coming into this game. You’re not going to win ’em all, but you want to try to continue to get better and better. I thought in the fourth quarter we kind of picked up what we didn’t do in the first couple, three quarters and started to get the wave going back in the right direction. It’s a long season. I know those guys, we beat ’em the first two times, here once and they back in Cleveland, so they were extra motivated. To have a boost like Eric Bledsoe, it definitely helps as well.”
Bledsoe, acquired by the Bucks from the Phoenix Suns, scored 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists.
Dwyane Wade, playing perhaps his final game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center where he also played his college basketball for Marquette, led the Cavs’ late charge with 9 of his 14 points and 2 steals in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what we’ve got him here for,” James said. “He’s our second-string leader. He makes sure those guys are ready to go. Kyle [Korver], Jeff Green, Channing [Frye] when he’s been in the lineup … and the rest of them. He’s the orchestrator of all them, and obviously tonight he showed what he’s capable of doing, getting in the lane, making step-back 3s, making sure the pass is on time, on target for our players. It’s a luxury to have a guy like that coming off the bench. It’s almost like [Joe] Montana and Steve Young, if you’re old enough [to remember].”
The Cavs’ signal-caller, coach Tyronn Lue, was asked about seeing his team surge back with James sitting on the bench until 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I mean, it was good,” Lue said. “We was able to get stops, get out in transition. Kyle and T-Top [Tristan Thompson] really worked well together coming off a shot or making that extra pass, and it was just good to see those guys play well together.”
Wade said his former Marquette teammate and current Bucks television analyst, Steve Novak, mentioned to him at Tuesday’s shootaround that the Bucks would be moving into the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center for the 2018-19 season. So, unless Cleveland plays Milwaukee in the playoffs, this would be his last chance to play in the building where he made a name for himself in college.
“I was out there on the court [thinking], ‘If this is my last game here, I got to do something because I’ve had a lot of amazing moments here,'” Wade said. “Every time I come here to look up there and see that jersey in the rafters, definitely know I did something special here in this city and this arena. So, if this was the last game, I need a piece of something, because it’s very special to my basketball career.”
Early in the Cavs’ stretch of wins, they came back from down 23 points to beat New York. While their comeback attempt against the Bucks wasn’t completed, Cleveland was left feeling encouraged by their late effort.
“The three games we’ve lost, the last three games I think we lost, they’ve all been, we’ve had a chance to win all three of them,” Wade said. “That’s the kind of way we want to play. With Indiana we had a chance, with Houston we had a chance, and tonight. If you’re going to lose, that’s the way you want to lose those games, knowing if you do a few more things that you can change, you come out a winner in those.”
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Bucks and gave them their first win in three tries this season against Cleveland.
“It was a big step for our team,” Antetokounmpo said. “It shows maturity. Usually, in a situation like that, we give away the game. I think we did a great job of sticking with it and believing in ourselves. We just played together. We took a step forward.”