CLEVELAND — After two devastating losses, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed a breather.
They got it in the form of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Cavs smashed the Bucks, 93-78, on Friday before 17,147 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“(It was a) good performance by our team, especially after the two losses,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “I thought our guys stepped up. We looked a little tired since we’ve got back from the West Coast trip.”
Most of the fans weren’t even settled in their seats when Brown called a timeout.
He jumped all over his players.
Brown didn’t want a replay of the Cavs’ last two losses.
“Our physicality wasn’t there,” Brown said. “I was more concerned with our defensive presence. They didn’t feel us. That was my message.”
The Cavs quickly ran off a 17-0 run and never trailed again. They limited the Bucks to 40.5 percent shooting from the field.
“Defense is going to win us games,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said. “We did a great job of competing.”
Swingman Khris Middleton had a team-high 13 points for the Bucks (8-34), who have now lost 10 of their last 11. Swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo added 10 points.
Center Anderson Varejao had a game-high 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
He converted 8-of-11 shots from the field, 4-of-4 in the third quarter when the Cavs (16-27) moved to a 71-55 advantage. Almost all his shots came on perimeter jumpers from the elbows.
Power forward Tristan Thompson recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Irving, who will start in the All-Star Game, posted his fifth double-double with 10 points, 10 assists and three rebounds. More importantly, Irving had no turnovers in 28 minutes.
“He’s making good decisions with the basketball,” Brown said.
Irving said he liked the energy in which the Cavs played.
“The last two games, we came out sluggish,” he said. “But tonight we took care of business.”
Milwaukee coach Larry Drew wasn’t thrilled with his team’s effort.
“I was expecting our guys to come out here with a little more firepower, particularly after an impressive win against Detroit (on Wednesday),” he said. “(The Cavs) were clearly the aggressor from start to finish. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency (in the second half), and that’s clearly on me. That’s my responsibility.”
The Cavs abused the Bucks on the boards, 52-34, including a 21-8 edge on the offensive glass.
“They really crash the offensive glass,” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “Thompson and Varejao, that’s their strengths. It’s all about finding guys and boxing them off. It’s all about effort.”
The Cavs are now 1-2 on their five-game homestand that concludes on Tuesday.
“I’ll take this every game,” Brown said. “It was great, listening to our guys talking on the bench. They were saying, ‘Keep taking care of business. Keep playing the right way.’ This is a good learning process for us.”
Brown said the defensive effort was spearheaded by Irving.
“Kyrie made Brandon Knight work tonight,” he said. “He did a nice job of trying to stay up in him.”
Knight was limited to just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Guard Dion Waiters had 13 points for the Cavs, 10 in the second quarter. He had eight rebounds and three assists.
Backup center Tyler Zeller added eight points, nine assists and three blocks.
“He’s been playing out of his mind,” Irving said of the 7-footer. “He’s doing everything we’ve asked of him.”
The Bucks, who have the worst record in the NBA, was what the doctor ordered for the Cavs.
“After coming off two losses, our guys stepped up,” Brown said. “We’ve looked a little tired after the West Coast trip.”
NOTES: Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving is campaigning for an invitation to the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. “There have only been a few back-to-back champs,” Irving said. “If they ask me to come back, I’ll definitely come back.” … Irving was named a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star Game and was among 28 players on Team USA’s national team on Thursday. “It’s a great honor to be part of the U.S. Olympic roster and being a starter,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, something I’ve dreamt about as a kid.” … Cavs C Anderson Varejao came into Friday’s game 15 rebounds shy of 4,000 in his career. … The Bucks have been going big with 6-10 Ekpe Udoh, 6-10 Ersan Ilyasova, 6-11 John Henson and 6-9 Giannis Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup. “It gives us more flexibility,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. … Udoh sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return. … Bucks G O.J. Mayo (virus) and C Larry Sanders (cold) aren’t completely healthy, but Drew said they’d play. … Drew’s son, Larry II, is playing for Sioux Falls in the D-League. He recently faced Antetokounmpo’s 6-7 brother, Thanasis, who is playing for Delaware. “(Thanasis is) a different player,” coach Drew said. “He’s really active. He’s athletic.”
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