The last two franchises to win NBA titles from the Eastern Conference met tonight in Cleveland, Ohio, and the game fans got was what you’d expect from the juggernauts as the playoff races start to take shape. Okay, so the Toronto Raptors will be playing for the East’s second seed and the Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping for lottery luck, but this was about as fun a January game as you could hope for.
In the end, the Cavs finished with three guys under the age of 22 on the floor — Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, and Kevin Porter Jr. brought the Cavs home, and you got a mix of the good and the bad that involves. Some trademark Sexton energy, a particularly good dribble-drive from Garland to set up a Larry Nance Jr. lob, and Porter brought a kind of physicality on the wing we haven’t seen in a while. Also, some mistakes.
The Toronto Raptors, 115. The Cleveland Cavaliers, 109.
Larry Nance Jr. has been very good
There’s sort of a joke that the Cavs are filled with guys who would be solid bench players - without real starters on the team. The poster child of this is probably Nance who, unlike Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson, and Collin Sexton, actually gets to come off the bench. He’s been very good in that role of late and anchored some bench units in this game that kept the Cavs in it. He was on the floor when things came apart at the end, but they wouldn’t have been in it without his rim-running, as well as a block and charge taken in the final five minutes of the game. He’s not always consistent, but B- players aren’t always consistent. Still a nice asset on a nice deal.
Turnovers doom the young guards
Kevin Porter Jr. had seven of them. Collin Sexton had four. They brought all kinds of good stuff to the table and scored efficiently otherwise. It’s the opposite of something I’d worry about against a Raptors team that plays as smart as anyone in the league. But it does show that a lot of the time this stuff is two steps forward, one step back. We’re years away from seeing what the ceiling is for these players, and the Cavs will have to be patient through it all, or somehow figure out the right time to move on and maximize value. For now, it’s pure evaluation mode: John Beilein is going to ride these guys and they’ll sink or swim on the court. Every game is a reset.
Bottom line, when you play a team as good as the Raptors the margin for error is small. The Cavs had too many errors. These guys are likely to get better. For KPJ, it probably starts with his handle.
Kevin Love has played a little better
Will he still be around after this week? He finished with 23 points on 13 shots, and that’s exciting and good. I’d assume scouts around the league are watching him, but the trade rumors haven’t picked up in awhile. We’ll see how his energy keeps up if he isn’t moved at the deadline. He’s been on his best behavior for a few weeks, but that could be to help rehabilitate his trade value to facilitate a move. Who knows. I like having him in Cleveland and having him play like this.