It may have seemed strange to see LeBron James on the bench for critical stretches of the fourth quarter during the Cleveland Cavaliers' 119-116 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, but the four-time MVP thought it was a "perfect" move.
"It was the perfect way to do it," James said of head coach Tyronn Lue's decision to keep him on the bench for the opening eight minutes and 22 seconds of the final period, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. "It was perfect."
Vardon noted the combination of Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson and Jae Crowder spearheaded runs of 19-0 and 24-2 as Cleveland erased a 20-point deficit and nearly won the contest.
James returned for crunch time and scored nine points in the last three minutes and 38 seconds on his way to 39 points, seven assists, three steals and two blocks.
James understood the five on the floor had the momentum, and Wade said the Cavaliers' leader encouraged the group to remain on the court.
"The momentum, it's that simple," James said, per Vardon. "We started the fourth quarter down, I don't know how many (15 points). They had the momentum, they was playing well. Just let them keep going. I mean, why not? We're all professionals."
James' return and the fourth-quarter runs ultimately weren't enough to counter Giannis Antetokounmpo, who challenged for a triple-double with 27 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists and converted an and-1 with less than 10 seconds remaining to stretch a two-point advantage to five.
Even though the Cavaliers lost, they are still playing at a head-turning clip with 18 wins in their last 20 contests.
Keeping James on the bench while others played well could serve to bolster the confidence of some of his teammates, but it also provided him with an opportunity to rest. The 32-year-old entered play Tuesday second in the league with 37.4 minutes per game, and the Cavaliers are going to need him fresh in May and June to accomplish their goals.
This is a team playing for more than just regular-season wins after reaching the last three NBA Finals. Additional time to rest for James in December isn't the worst thing as the season progresses.