Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cavaliers 89, Bucks 86

You know when a team loses a game it should have won, and all the doomsdayers and naysayers say, "at the end of the season, they might look back at this one"?
The Cavaliers have had plenty of losses like that this year. The gag against New York in early January. The close losses to the Lakers, Blazers and Nuggets on the West Coast swing.
Last night, however, the Cavs had a win they might look back upon at the end of the season.
Monday's 89-86 win over the Bucks is important in a couple of ways: It keeps the Cavs three games up on Milwaukee for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a game they could very easily have let slip away. Most importantly, it won the season series over Milwaukee 3-1, giving the Cavs the tiebreak should the two teams finish the season with identical records.
The Cavs are now 9-2 against the Central Division, having won the season series from both the Bucks and Pacers.
A winning divisional record is important when you are jockeying for playoff positioning. Are you taking notes, Eric Wedge?
Monday's game had a playoff feel to it. A lot of sportscasters say that about a lot of games, but this truly felt like a first-round playoff preview. There was a see-saw, ebb-and-flow to the game. The Cavs would make a run, knocking the lead out to double digits, but the Bucks would come storming back with unlikely contributions from guards Bobby Simmons and Charlie Bell, who picked up the slack for Michael Redd. Redd was the primary focus of the Cavs' defense. He finished with a respectable 18 points, but was shut down for much of the game.
Like a lot of playoff games, Monday's game ended in a stare down. The Bucks went on an 11-0 run to take the lead on a T.J. Ford jumper with 30 seconds to play.
These were the situations the Cavs were failing in during the West Coast trip. Remember how the media and fans were riding LeBron James for missing game-winners on that trip. Well, he got one Monday.
No, it wasn't a buzzer-beater, a stupid, contrived litmus test for how meaningful a basket should be considered. But the play displayed everything that is unstoppable about LeBron. He dribbled up top, looking for a seam, found it down the left side of the lane, and exploded to the hoop.
Once he turned the corner around Simmons, there was no way any Buck was going to stop him without fouling him. He tossed the layup in off the glass for an 87-86 lead.
The Bucks had a chance to answer with less than 20 seconds remaining, but Anderson Varejao stepped up. More exactly, he fell down.
No player in the NBA spends more time with his butt, back and shoulders on the floor than Varejao. But he makes his falls count. He is showing a propensity for floppery that probably makes the greatest European players jealous. And no flop was more important than the one he took when Redd gave him a forearm to the chest with 11 seconds left.
No sooner had Varejao's moptop grazed the floor than the referee jabbed his arm toward the other end of the floor, signaling a Redd charge.
LeBron took the ensuing inbounds pass, sucked the defense toward him, then found a wide open Donyell Marshall for an uncontested dunk to seal the game.
It was the type of game the Cavs should file away for late April and early May, when a LeBron bucket or Varejao flop could make the difference between advancing or going home for the summer.

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