Well, that was undoubtedly a basketball game in some form.
After being outscored 40-20 in the first quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers saw themselves playing catch-up for the rest of the night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. While they tried their best, there wasn’t enough the Cavaliers could muster in this game to keep matching the Timberwolves shot for shot. Having Donovan Mitchell out there would’ve been something Cleveland relished tonight. Unfortunately, Mitchell was out due to an ankle sprain, which, in turn, hurt the Cavaliers quite a bit on offense.
The dazzling Darius Garland!
Cleveland star Darius Garland, who looked a bit off-kilter during the team’s lengthy road trip, was sensational tonight. Garland finished the game with a career-best 51 points and more or less carried the Cavaliers back into this game down the stretch.
If it wasn’t for a missed defensive rebound opportunity and Kevin Love turning the ball over down the stretch on an inbounds play, Garland would’ve won this game for Cleveland. If anything, it’s a positive way to look forward to Wednesday when the Cavaliers are in Milwaukee to take on the Bucks. There was no comeback without Garland going off.
same old Cavaliers
Condiments aside, of the four games in their four-game losing streak, this one was the most frustrating for the Cavaliers. Sure, they looked like a team in new uniforms that just got home from a lengthy west coast road trip.
Speaking of the new threads, they’re... not bad? More than anything, it’s an acquired taste for what Cleveland is wearing on seven separate occasions this season. I don’t quite understand how powder blue and taupe tie in with the Metroparks. If someone smarter than me fashion-wise wants to break it down for me, by all means.
Unfortunately, the maiden voyage for the Cavs-Metroparks crossover was a bit of a dud. Maybe, despite their name, the Timberwolves hate flora and fauna. To that, I say, there’s only one planet, man. Learn to love and cherish it before we destroy it for good.
A Buckeye beatdown in Cleveland
Okay, back to actual basketball talk instead of fashion opinions.
How about Ohio State product D’Angelo Russell? Heading into this game, Russell was averaging 23.5 points on 44.3% shooting and 5.2 assists in 32.2 minutes per game. Tonight against Cleveland, Russell boosted those averages quite a bit. Russell finished the night with 29 points on 84.6% shooting along with 12 assists.
Russell is a former All-Star and nights like these are bound to happen. But, considering Russell is only averaging 13.2 points and 5.8 assists per game on similar shooting splits to his rookie season, he hasn’t been great up to this point either. Russell took advantage of some fairly lax defense from Darius Garland or Isaac Okoro or whoever Cleveland attached him to. Whenever Russell blew past any of the aforementioned players, the lack of Jarrett Allen to co-exist with Evan Mobley at the rim made things even messier for the Cavaliers on defense.
Sure, Cleveland understood the assignment and defended Anthony Edwards, the best player on Minnesota, well. But, it allowed Russell to get going and most of his damage came in the first quarter, where he didn’t miss a single attempt and scored 15 points. From there, it had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Timberwolves offensively and the Cavaliers found themselves clawing and scrapping the rest of the way.
At this time, there isn’t a clear answer to what the Cavaliers can do to fix issues like these. But, the lackadaisical starts to the first quarter are becoming a bit of a recurring theme and when Cleveland is missing offensive firepower like Mitchell, they’re never going to be able to match opponents shot for shot down the stretch. So, I guess getting Mitchell back will make things a bit easier. But, that's just slapping a bandaid on a dam that’s about to burst. J.B. Bickerstaff might need to tinker with his rotations a bit.
Isaac Okoro: somewhat functional on offense!
For the majority of the season, it was fair to be critical of Isaac Okoro. Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared prior to the regular season that last year, the team had to put Okoro in a box offensively. That meant Okoro didn’t have the freedom to learn and grow from his mistakes on the floor due to Cleveland becoming a winning team after acquiring Evan Mobley in the NBA Draft. Looking ahead, Bickerstaff wanted Okoro to play more loosely on offense and become more of a complete two-way player. Adding Mitchell to the fold certainly made that a lot easier for the Cavaliers since they were adding a warhead to their already impressive armament.
But, prior to tonight’s game against the Timberwolves, Okoro has looked like a ghost on offense. Which, in turn, saw him receive a sharp reduction in minutes and players like Cedi Osman bumping him out of the rotation entirely some nights. It appeared Okoro never left the proverbial box on offense and, skepticism about a third-year offensive leap was running rampant.
Mind you, the skepticism isn’t going to go away any time soon. But, against Minnesota, Okoro showed a pulse at times on offense. He finished the night with 8 points on 3-4 shooting and also connected on his first three-pointer of the season after missing his first 12 attempts. The way Okoro scored was somewhat multifaceted and the Cavaliers found ways to get him great looks in different spots on the floor. When Cleveland breaks down film from this game, they need to chop up, chew up and digest what was effective for Okoro on offense. Since, if Mitchell is out for a while, the Cavaliers are going to need more of that from Okoro.
Again, it’s still a very small sample size in the grand scheme of this entire season. But, more than anything, it’s somewhat encouraging all things considered. It makes Okoro a bit more comfortable on offense, which is what you want after such a rocky start to the year. Cleveland needs Okoro to level up a bit on offense and become a player that can be a common thread on either end of the floor. Until it happens, it’s going to be something fans and those who cover the team speculates on. With some of this new-found comfort, maybe Okoro can start turning the corner on offense.
Up next: The Cavaliers face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.