With their 129-117 loss to the Celtics on Friday, the Cavaliers’ three-game winning streak — the franchise’s longest since LeBron James left for the Lakers — is over. It got ugly in spots, as the Cavs trailed by as many as 22 points before whitting it down to single digits in the second half.
Kevin Love led the Cavs with 30 points with Collin Sexton adding 21 points and Kevin Porter Jr. scoring 16 points off the bench.Let’s get into it.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown: Pretty good
A key job for the Cavs moving forward is to find and develop interesting wing players. Kevin Porter Jr. might be that — he’s arguably been the most interesting young Cav this year. Cedi Osman has had his moments. Maybe Dylan Windler will hit. But there’s a difference between a nice wing piece and what Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are.
Tatum and Brown combined for 64 points on Friday. They got basically every shot they wanted and were able to do so when they wanted and Cleveland couldn’t really do anything about it. Those two players alone were the difference between the two teams, at least in a macro sense. Finding versions of those guys — and/or maybe developing them — has to be atop Koby Altman’s shopping list going forward. Finding better ways to stop them would help too.
Speaking of Kevin Porter Jr.
Again: Kevin Porter Jr. might be the Cavs’ most interesting young player to date. Friday’s game is a case in point, with Porter Jr. scoring his 16 points on 5-9 shooting to go along with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. He also shot 5-5 at the line, a leap from his 1.4 attempts per game coming into the game.
What most stood out from Porter Jr.’s game was his passing. He’s only averaging 1.9 assists per game on the season, but games like Friday show that he’s growing as a creator. A play like this takes him being aware of where his teammates are and knowing that play is going to be there. This was not a thing at the start of his career just a few months ago:
Kevin to Kevin for the FLUSH!@Kevinporterjr | #BeTheFight | @kevinlove@MetroByTMobile Key Coverage pic.twitter.com/2G4twRUFoT— FOX Sports Cleveland (@FOXSportsCLE) December 27, 2019
You truly love to see it.
Dante Exum’s strong debut
Exum, in his Cleveland debut, played 15 minutes off the bench, finishing with 9 points, 2 steals and an assist. His first basket was a nice showcase of his athleticism, with Kevin Love hitting him on the break in stride and Exum finishing at the other end.
His real impact came in the fourth quarter, where his mix if ball handling and defense made itself known. He also made a catch-and-shoot three, which isn’t exactly a strong suit for him historically. It’ll take time to see if he can do this (or more) night to night, but this is a good first start.
At the very least, he provides a different — perhaps needed — energy than Jordan Clarkson provided. And the Cavs have no good reason to give him a chance to succeed.
Cleveland plays again tomorrow, this time in Minnesota against the Timberwolves at 8 p.m.