The Cavs bookended their week with the two most impressive wins of the season: convincing victories against the franchise’s greatest historical rival, the Golden State Warriors. I wanted to call this piece “Dub Sandwich,” but you don’t name the ‘wich after the bread, do you? Cleveland stuffed that delicious rye bread with one of the most perplexing messes of a game we’ve seen in a while, an stinker against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the OKC Thunder.
My favorite player from this stretch was Caris LeVert who posted a 20/5/3 average in 34 minutes a game to go along with two steals and just 1.3 turnovers. That’s 6MOY territory. The Cavs’ super sub has been absolutely killing it in a clearly defined role: bench scorer and creator, defender, and catch-and-shoot three point shooter. While three point makes have been down for Caris, I absolutely love the proclivity: LeVert is averaging a career high 6.4 points per game, and his willingness to let it fly is opening up his drive game, and giving his teammates more space. The shooting percentages inside and out of the arc are a bit low for all our taste, but he’s getting to the line (16 times against the Thunder!) and the buckets will come.
Caris was the best Cavalier at Golden State on Saturday, absolutely blanketing Klay Thompson on D, and roasting the toasted Thompson in transition. The Cavs forced 20 Warriors’ turnovers and Caris leaked out in transition time and again on those giveaways, his eyes lighting up when he saw Klay hobbling around at free safety. It’s unlikely Klay will ever be the same player he was. His lateral movement and quickness are just not there anymore. They’ve been sapped by time and injury. It’s sad, but karmic in a way for a guy who destroyed Kyrie’s kneecap with the worst uncalled foul in NBA history in overtime of game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals.
Caris has been fantastic in transition and driving and Nashing the baseline to find bigs and shooters. To contrast that, Darius Garland’s in one of the worst stretches since his rookie year, and gave the ball away 18 times this week and is averaging 5.6 on the season. His eight turnovers in OKC were a huge factor in the loss. The answer to young Darius’ problem is (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) is just watching clips of Caris LeVert in the same game. Garland’s been driving, getting in the air, and then throwing the ball to the other team repeatedly throughout the week. Keep your dribble young Darius, and don’t leave your feet to pass. It’s literally that simple. Yes, I know some of this is reads, and some of this is underestimating the quickness and length of NBA defenders, but the majority of his problem is that he needs to stop reverting to fundamentally poor basketball habits, especially when driving the baseline.
The good news is that the scoring has been ok (just under 18 a game) Garland’s shot finally looks like it’s coming around from deep. DG launched a critical left corner three late in the game Saturday that the Warriors were too gassed to guard, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when in swirled into the basket. Garland went 3-5 that game, and was absolutely helped by the increased gravity of the Clippers playing more shooters. Another reason for the turnovers is that teams have been playing Garland for the pass on drives and in the P/R, and after repeatedly giving it away, Garland’s finally recognizing when to drive for the score. He canned 15-28 inside the arc this week, on a large percentage of floaters, runners, and drives. Garland definitely lost his timing missing several games after the opener, but could be slowly getting it back.
Other guys are getting their shot back too. Max Strus was 9-19 from deep this week, and pitched in on the boards and with a dose of playmaking to average roughly 16/6/4 this week. The return of Garland has been a godsend that’s kept him from having to do too much offensively, and the return of Allen has eased the load for everyone defensively. It’s definitely been a welcome return for Evan Mobley who’s looked much more comfortable scoring and shooting with a 63TS%. You could say that it’s because Evan’s getting a lot more dunks, and that is true, but the free throw stroke has been very consistent the last two games, as swished a perfect 11-11. The shot looks calmer and more focused, and hopefully leads to good things for him from the floor. One area Mobley’s been down in: rebounding. After 16 boards in Cleveland against the Dubs last Sunday, Mobley just grabbed five the last two games.
You’d think it would be better, but Allen has been averaging just seven in this stretch too. These are pretty pedestrian numbers on the week for the Cavs’ two big men, especially given the Cavs increased pace and you have to hope that improves. To contrast that, the Cavs have been doing a much better job of rebounding as a team and scrapping for loose balls: the rebound battle has been dead even for the week. To their credit, Mobley and Allen have been holding off defenders and tipping the ball to guards. For the rest of his floor game, Allen hasn’t been dominant, but he”s been an improvement over what the Cavs’ had before that: 13/7/3 in 27 minutes a game with just one four turnovers total. It’ll do.
The guy who is rebounding like a fiend? Dean Wade picking the slack for Cleveland on the boards. In this three game sample, Wade put up a whopping 35% defensive rebound rate. Wade grabbed 17 rebounds in 39 minutes, and added five stocks this week. Deans’s also been strictly 3-and-D: 3-8 from downtown and no other field goal attempts. He is, in short, been playing exactly like the player the Cavs have been needing for years. It makes one wonder if the Cavs improved play this week could be partially due to less Okoro (who, let’s face it, has always been a pretty meh rebounder) and more Wade.
Speaking of the guy Wade should be playing for, let’s take a look at Georges Niang. You all know he’s the player I love to hate. Well, Niang had his only shooting game above 33% from deep in the first Warriors game, going 2-4. We all knew Niang was going to be an adventure defensively, but no one could have guessed how bad he’d be offensively. Georges is shooting a mind numbing sub 30% from the field and sub 25% from deep. In the Thunder game, the Cavs had cut a one time 16 point Thunder lead to just four with five minutes remaining. Unfortunately, JB should lose his coaching license for the malpractice he perpetrated keeping Niang in the game for crunch time.
The Thunder were hunting Rolling Donuts whenever they could, but made they it pay off first when Holmgren thumped an alley oop over Georges’ corpulent frame like he was a plus sized mannequin. Then, Niang got caught peaking on an SGA drive and Lu Dort got to the rack on a back door baseline cut behind Georges and got two free throws. Finally, SGA got the minivan in transition and cooked him for a pull-up three. Four minutes left. Thunder up nine. Rage timeout, JB. Cavs couldn’t overcome the diff after that.
Outside of the gravity he provides, it remains comical that Georges is A) getting playing time, B) playing in crunch time, and C) making $24 million dollars over the next three years. Despite that, this was the Cavs best three game stretch of the season, and you can chalk up the Thunder loss to JB’s idiotic decision to play Niang in crunch time, the Cavs’ 20 turnovers, and a rough shooting night from Mitchell, (and maybe 43 from Shai).
Fortunately, the Cavs are playing at a faster pace (11th in the NBA), which has been the key to the last three games. Why? Because with more possessions, JB’s penchant for mismanaging possessions is diminished. The Cavs have to lead the NBA in turnovers out of timeout plays, and we all know that JB stinks at managing challenges. Thank God he has less of an impact.
That these two wins and one perplexing loss came with the Cavs’ best player putting up some pretty average (for him) numbers, is probably a positive portent. 24/4/5 in 36 minutes a night with just two turnovers while grabbing two steals. His shooting numbers are down at 52TS%, but Mitchell has been a positive every game this season except the Knicks’ in the plus/minus area. The most important thing is that (finally, this season) JB is playing Mitchell sustainable minutes that don’t leave him exhausted at the ends of games. Yes, I know the Cavs were dealing with injuries before that, but it was still inexcusable.
But Mitchell’s gamesmanship led to the most important play of Saturday’s game. After a stellar first half by Cleveland that saw them up 68-52, Draymond Green was salty as hell. He’d already gotten a tech in the first half, and the the Dubs definitely came out in the third with the mantra of dialing up the intensity. Dial it up they did. The Dubs started junking it up and Steph started heating up, and Dray was animated. About halfway through the third, Donovan Mitchell made a beeline for Mitchell from the opposite baseline and gave him a little shoulder check while Dray had the ball just past half court. The refs called a foul, naturally, and then the fireworks started. Spider and Bray started getting in each others’ chest, DM had a wry smile on his face, and then we went to replay to review the weakest “possible flagrant” I’ve ever seen.
10 minutes of speculation later, Dray was ejected for his second tech, a “previous act” where he shoved Spida to the ground under the other basket, and DM waived him goodbye. It was so great.
Now the Cavs still went cold in the following stretch, and still gave up the lead for a brief moment at the end of the third, but Golden State expended a lot of energetic getting back into this game, and missing Draymond was just the recipe for letting the Cavs’ bigs feast in the fourth. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an adventure. JB got outcoached badly at times: two turnovers on after timeout plays and Steve Kerr challenging an offensive foul that put three points back on the boards, but like I said, the pace gives the Cavs’ the chance to overcome.
After Steph scored 13 in the third by spamming the mid-range, James Dean Wade started the fourth off by canning a pair of triples before picking up his sixth foul. Let’s just say that Jonathan Kuminga’s best offensive skill is foul grifting. JB took a risk by playing his best players to start the third against Golden State’s bench squad, and it worked out.
We saw some beautiful action from Max and Jarrett Allen, where Strus’ gravity paved the way for an Allen oop.
It The Cavs kept it at least a two possession game the rest of the way, mostly behind strong finishing from Mobley at the dunker spot. But LeVert and Mobley played great D, Mitchell hit some buckets, and Garland swished that three. By 2:13 the Cavs were up 14, and the Dubs waived the white flag with a game the next night.
Comically it still wasn’t over as the clocks in the Chase Center stopped working and it was another 15-20 minutes to play the last two minutes of the game. Kevin Porter Junior missed five straight garbage time free throws, and Moses Moody cut the lead to eight with 1:17 left with both teams trading turnovers. Max Strus had to come back in to swish a couple triples and put this one to bed.
So all-in-all, there’ve been worse weeks for Cleveland. It’s always good beat the Warriors, and we’re all happy the good guys got most of their full retinue back. Cleveland takes on the Kings and our old friend Mike Brown Monday’s y night, and then close out the road trip in Portland on Wednesday. Let’s hope they close out the week with a win in the a tournament standing game (the ugly courts) against Detroit.