CLEVELAND — A lot of people affiliated with the Cavaliers, coach Mike Brown included, tend to forget about 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Fortunately for Cleveland, LeBron James does not.
Playing off his superstar teammate, Ilgauskas made three straight jumpers to start the second overtime, propelling the Cavaliers to a 104-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“As long as I attract double-teams, he’s going to make open shots,” said James, who had 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 50 minutes. “I’m going to make sure I make his big (defender) come toward me. Pick your poison.”
Ilgauskas, who looked lost when James missed five games with a sprained finger, finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 41 minutes, helping the Cavaliers win for just the second time in their last 10 games. Devin Brown, who had not played at all in the three previous contests, provided 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 31 energetic minutes.
“Obviously, Devin Brown came off the bench and gave us a huge lift,” Mike Brown said. “I just felt it was Devin’s turn today. He’s going to continue to get an opportunity.”
Milwaukee (10-14), which is just 2-12 on the road, with one of its wins a 111-107 victory at The Q on Nov. 20, got 22 points, seven rebounds and nine assists from shooting guard Michael Redd, but he was just 7-of-22 from the field, including 2-of-10 from behind the arc.
Point guard Mo Williams added 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, but he was just 6-of-20 from the field, including 1-of-9 from behind the arc. Desmond Mason had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Yi Jianlian had 13 points, Charlie Villanueva had 13 points and nine boards and Jake Voskuhl, who killed the Cavaliers early, had 10 points.
In the end, though, the true assassin was Ilgauskas, who was 11-of-22 from the field.
“We were concentrating so much on LeBron that we forgot about Zydrunas,” Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut said. “He shot the ball really well. None of his buckets really were inside. When he shoots the ball like that, he’s tough to stop. All you can do is really contest.”
In a hotly contested game, both teams had chances to win in regulation or the first overtime.
The Cavaliers, who did not commit a turnover in the fourth period or either OT, were up one with 11.6 seconds left in regulation and had one of their best free throw shooters, Daniel Gibson, at the line. Gibson, however, missed the first before making the second.
The Bucks then tied the game when Williams drove into the lane and drew contact from Anderson Varejao. Williams made both shots to make it 85-85 with 5.9 seconds left, and the game went into overtime when James missed a running bank at the buzzer.
Mason put Milwaukee up 93-91 with a one-handed 10-footer with 40.4 seconds left in the first OT, but Devin Brown grabbed a huge offensive rebound in traffic and scored to tie the game with 16.7 ticks on the clock. The game went into a second OT when Milwaukee’s Yi missed a 19-footer from the top of the key.
That set the stage for Ilgauskas, who set picks for James, popped open and sank jumpers — if they really can be called jumpers.
Over his last four games, the Lithuanian has averaged 18.5 points on .509 shooting, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. It’s no coincidence that James played in those four games after missing the previous five.
“Teams pay so much attention to LeBron whenever he has the ball,” Mike Brown said. “If he drives and gets into the paint, somebody has to be open. A lot of times it’s ‘Z.’”
On a night when Drew Gooden’s mind was in the ozone — he had four points on 2-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes — the Cavaliers also got nine points and six rebounds from Varejao, who played 39 minutes as Mike Brown stuck with basically the same lineup for roughly the last 28 minutes.
Without Devin Brown, however, they would have been in serious trouble, as Sasha Pavlovic (1-of-3 in 26 minutes) and Larry Hughes (3-of-11 in 22 minutes) continued to stink up the joint, while Shannon Brown, Eric Snow and Damon Jones got off the bench only during timeouts.
“You always have to be ready,” Devin Brown said. “Always.”
The sixth-year pro was on this night, making 4 of 7 shots from the field, playing aggressive defense, crashing the boards and driving the hoop to set up scoring opportunities for teammates.
“He did a lot of things — the intangibles,” James said. “Second-chance points, energy — he did a lot of things for us. He came in and did the things we needed. It was great to see.”
The Cavaliers looked like they were taking control of the game when they stretched a two-point halftime lead to 10 early in the third period, but they failed to score over the next 6:30 as Milwaukee went on a 13-0 run.
The Bucks still led by five with nine minutes to go in the game, but their lead would have been much bigger had they made open shots. Milwaukee also attempted just 22 free throws in 58 minutes after taking 41 in regulation in its earlier victory over Cleveland.
Despite all that, the Bucks had their chances late into the second overtime. With his team down three, Redd was fouled with 19.1 seconds to go, but missed the second attempt. Yi, however, reached over Varejao and slapped the ball over the basket to Bogut, who missed a close left-handed shot while being bodied by Ilgauskas.
James, who became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 9,000 points — 22 years, 352 days to Kobe Bryant’s 24 years, 127 days — then made two free throws with 14.4 seconds left to put Cleveland up four. Williams followed by air-balling a 3-point attempt, essentially ending the game.
In addition to his 31 points and setting up of Ilgauskas, James also defended Redd, who had 34 points and made 16 of 20 free throws in the earlier meeting, down the stretch.
“Whatever it takes for our team to get over the hump, I’m going to do,” James said.
Noland may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4061.