CLEVELAND -- LeBron James offered a tongue-in-cheek explanation for a social media post. Dwyane Wade offered a sincere apology to Cleveland fans. And the Cavaliers outlasted the Milwaukee Bucks 124-119 on Tuesday night to climb back to within a game of .500 at 5-6.
James' name had been in the news over the previous 24 hours, less for his impending matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo or tying Michael Jordan's career total of 1,072 games played, and more for an Instagram post featuring Arthur the Aardvark's clenched fist, which he published Monday night.
"I like Arthur," James said, when he was asked to explain the post after putting up 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against the Bucks. "That's OK, right?"
Before the pithy postgame response, speculation ran rampant about what James was referring to. Could it be he was upset with the poor way his team has started the season? Was the timing of the post -- just minutes after Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to earn their ninth straight win -- tied to James' opinion of the Irving trade? Was it prompted by something unrelated to basketball, possibly the cause of him missing shootaround Tuesday morning for a "personal matter," according to a team spokesman?
He started to defuse the speculation Tuesday morning, first on Twitter:
Then by liking an Instagram post by the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green, poking fun at James' self-proclaimed "mood":
And later by posting a compilation of photos showing him clenching his fists, à la Arthur, during every stage of his basketball career, from high school to the Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and back to Cleveland:
Without an explanation for the Arthur post, some fans wondered if James purposely chose to listen to rapper Big K.R.I.T.'s song "Price of Fame" and share the music selection on his Instagram story published from the back of his car on his drive to Quicken Loans Arena as a clue to what he was going through. Hours earlier, the New York Post published a story describing an alleged private message exchange between James and a female model over social media.
When he wasn't on the court as his name was called during player introductions for the second straight game, more eyebrows were raised.
Much like his explanation for the Arthur post being far simpler than many assumed, he said the intro absences were because he was still in the restroom at that time.
As the final seconds ticked off the Cavs' win over the Bucks, James hurled the ball into the air, but he said that had more to do with him being frustrated over missing a late free throw than it did with him being relieved that the day was finally over.
"That was just, the time was going out, and I'm done with the game," James said. "I was definitely a little upset about the free throw, but it wasn't the toss of the ball. I could've went 9-for-10 tonight, and I blew it. I'll be all right."
Much as James took the blame for the missed freebie, Wade owned up to Cleveland's spotty start and promised better times ahead.
"We apologize for the way we started the season," Wade said, addressing the postgame crowd during an interview with Cavs in-arena announcer Ahmaad Crump, which was shown on the video board. "But we're getting better."
Indeed, the Cavs were much improved against Milwaukee.
JR Smith, who came into the night averaging a career-low 5.3 points on a career-worst 27.5 percent shooting, scored a season-high 20 points and went 7-for-12 from the field.
"'The hell with it,'" Smith recalled as what he told himself before the game for motivation. "'I'm going to go back to my old way of playing -- just shoot, shoot, shoot and see if I can get myself out of this thing.'"
Kevin Love set season highs in points (32) and rebounds (16).
And the Cavs, who came into the game ranked 24th in team 3-point percentage (33.4 percent), shot a sharp 50 percent from deep (9-for-18).
"In my experience, what I've learned is that you're going to go through different things throughout the year," Wade said. "This was the first one. The first 10 or 11 games, we went through something. For our fans that come and support us, we failed them by not winning enough games at home and not giving them enough to cheer about.
"But now we move on from this phase, hopefully, and we move into another one. Then we will have another something, and we will have to figure out as a team how to get over that. But at the end of the day, we're all getting over it together. We are all out there together."