It was another winning week for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they were able to grab their signature win of the season over the Milwaukee Bucks. This was followed up with a dreadful loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Here’s what we learned from the up and down week.
Jarrett Allen on Giannis Antetokounmpo can work.
Having a center guard Antetokounmpo isn’t something JB Bickerstaff and company invented, but they may be the perfect team to execute this plan with Evan Mobley still able to roam the backline of the defense.
Allen was the primary defender on Giannis most of the night and held the former MVP to 10 points on 3 of 6 shooting. Antetokounmpo still got his usual scoring numbers as he finished the contest with 26 points, 9 boards and 3 assists. The team didn’t have their usual success with him on the floor as the Bucks had a 98.3 offensive rating with him on.
This was the second time this season the Cavs used this strategy against Giannis. The Cavs lost their first meeting on December 6 against a healthy Bucks squad but Giannis was held to just 2 assists in that game. Antetokounmpo has been held to 3 or less assists 10 times this season. Two of those games were against the Cavs. The Bucks are 5-5 in those games.
Allen’s length combined with Mobley’s ability to help and contest shots at the rim has limited Antetokounmpo’s ability as a playmaker which is all you can hope to do. Mobley assumed the traditional center role and was able to contest a game high 12 shots and finished with 2 blocks on Wednesday night.
Giannis is a gifted scorer who can’t be contained, but you can lessen some of his offensive impact if he isn’t able to generate as many open looks for his teammates. The Cavs were able to do this both times they’ve met this season thanks to their versatile frontcourt and Allen’s ability to somewhat stay in front of Giannis. It’ll be interesting to see how this matchup develops as both sides become more familiar with each other.
The Darius Garland and Rajon Rondo duo is running out of time.
Garland and Ricky Rubio was one of the best pairings in the league. Their ability to play off-ball together and put the front court in a position to succeed made for an inseparable pairing.
Rondo was never expected to entirely replace Rubio’s lost production given where he’s at in his career. However, there was hope that he could replicate to a lesser degree the success of the Garland and Rubio pairing.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, the Garland and Rondo pairing has struggled at times as evidenced by their closing minutes against the Pistons. The Cavs now have a substandard 101.1 offensive rating in the 43 minutes the duo has shared the floor together.
Rondo isn’t a natural fit with Garland like Rubio was. His inability to act as anything other than a streaky shooter off-ball limits his effectiveness when his shot isn’t falling like it was in Detroit. That means that the best use of the pairing is to have Rondo play more on ball but you don’t want to take the ball out of the hands of your best scorer down the stretch.
In an ideal world the Cavs could be patient with this pairing to see if Garland and Rondo can develop some chemistry together. Adding another perimeter player will likely require sending out Rubio’s contract which would significantly lessen the Cavs chances of signing him again in the upcoming off-season. Unfortunately, Koby Altman and company can’t give this pairing more time to develop with the trade deadline less than two weeks away.
Everything is a first for the Cavs.
Most of the platitudes we assign to young teams are more suited for bad teams. People say young teams don’t win on the road, young teams are inconsistent or young teams don’t know how to close games and so forth. It’s more accurate to say bad teams don’t know how to do those things. It’s just that many bad teams are young because they’re rebuilding.
The Cavs are a young team but they aren’t a bad team. They’ve shown they can win on the road (15-11), that they aren’t inconsistent (8-2 against bottom 7 teams) and can close games (12-11 in games within 5 points in the last 3 minutes). However, everything that they do is a first.
The Bucks win more or less put the Cavs on the map as a contender which is a first for nearly everyone on the team. They responded to this by believing they could beat the Pistons by just showing up. The defensive effort that has been driving wins wasn’t present and when they tried to turn it on late in the fourth it was already too late.
Young teams can win in any league if they are good. I believe the Cavs are good even though they need an additional perimeter scorer/playmaker to be taken seriously as a threat to win multiple playoff series. But we don’t know how this team reacts to certain situations yet since they haven’t been there before. They didn’t react well in Detroit after receiving national praise but that doesn’t mean they won’t learn from these experiences and react differently going forward. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cavs respond to this and the many more firsts they’ll encounter throughout the remainder of the season.