The Cleveland Cavaliers have four wins in their first nine games. This was not something many people expected to happen. It’s certainly not something I expected to happen. The best case scenario involved Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson playing to their pedigree while Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton took meaningful steps forward. If that happened, the team could be competitive.
So far, so good.
The Knicks are not a good basketball team by any stretch, but Collin Sexton put together what almost had to be his best game as a pro. 31 points on 16 shots, three assists, and zero turnovers is more than what you’re looking for. Your Cleveland Cavaliers, 108. The New York Knicks, 87.
Collin Sexton the hero
It wasn’t just that Sexton scored so efficiently. He was engaged defensively and scored from all levels. He got to the basket, he made threes off the dribble, he hit spot-up opportunities. The Cavs aren’t going to get good defense from Darius Garland right now, but Sexton has the strength and athleticism to be productive on that end. He’s showing the drive to do it. All of the Cavaliers’ starters put together a good showing in the plus/minus department, but this felt like the first time that someone other than Love or Thompson were really driving the bus on the productive lineup. The Cavs are getting some really good minutes from their starters. It’s starting to look like that will continue as long as the group is healthy.
The Cavs defense was really good
Look, it was the New York Knicks. We get that. But people say the same thing about the Cleveland Cavaliers, and this game was a runaway win on the road. Outside of Sexton’s scoring, the tone was set defensively. Tristan Thompson only had nine points on nine shots, but the Cavs outscored the Knicks by 33 in his 31 minutes. The Knicks starting lineup only attempted a combined 13 three pointers, and they weren’t able to be particularly productive inside with Thompson’s presence. Osman and Sexton are right there with him dialed in, and Kevin Love seems engaged as well. We came into the year thinking Larry Nance Jr. might be the starting center, and that this might be a historically bad defense. Thompson’s anchoring the unit, but Beilein and staff deserve a lot of credit.
We’re still looking for answers from the bench
The Cavs are having trouble finding secondary units that work - at all. Even in this era of good feelings, an injury to Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson could put a wrench in this thing really fast. That might be a good thing, given draft implications, but you’d like to see some guys step up. Kevin Porter Jr. is showing signs that he’s a nice long-term piece, but that’s not in the here and now. It wasn’t a good game for Jordan Clarkson. Maybe Dylan Windler helps a little.
You could say the Cavs are winning the games they’re supposed to win, but I’m not sure that’s how it works. The idea that the Cavs are supposed to win any games is a relatively new proposition, and yet here we are.