The Cleveland Cavaliers snapped their five-game losing streak with wins over the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat.
Here’s what we learned this week.
The Cavs continue to struggle in the clutch.
The Cavs have played the most clutch time (score within five under five minutes left to play) minutes in the NBA this season. They are being outscored by 9.7 points per 100 possessions in the clutch while posting a 112.4 offensive rating and a 122.1 defensive rating.
Cleveland has had leads with under five minutes to play in four of their six losses this season. They’ve also blown leads of seven or more in the last minute twice before securing wins in overtime. The latest example of this came against the Hornets.
Late-game execution remains dreadful.
The Cavs found themselves up 10 with 52 seconds left in the fourth on Friday before completely falling apart against the 29th-ranked offense. Let’s take a look at how that happened.
Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. were Charlotte’s best perimeter players and shooters on Friday night with LaMelo Ball out of the lineup. Rozier initiates the comeback with a three with 45 seconds left. Poor situational awareness, which is a common theme, is to blame here. Mason Plumlee comes up to set a screen. Jarrett Allen drops back to the paint which is how the Cavs typically defend screens. But, that isn’t what you want to do in this situation. Rozier gets a clean look as Darius Garland isn’t able to fight over the screen.
Donovan Mitchell does a poor job of handling the double team that comes immediately after receiving the inbound. Gordan Hayward pokes the ball away which allows Rozier to pick it up and secure possession.
Mitchell simply has to be better in this situation given the time and score. This was reminiscent of the two turnovers we saw earlier this season against the Washington Wizards which allowed them to force overtime.
Rozier misses the ensuing jumper but is able to grab his own miss. Charlotte resets. They dump the ball inside to P.J. Washington. Lamar Stevens falls asleep on this play. He neither stays with Oubre nor helps. Given the situation, he should’ve stayed with Oubre. But at a bare minimum, he had to avoid getting caught in no man’s land. Stevens’s late contest doesn’t affect the shot.
The Cavs see their lead cut from 10 to six. Given they have possession and there is less than 30 seconds on the clock this should still be an easy game to put away.
Poor execution with after-time-out inbounds is another theme that has popped up more than once this season. Here, J.B. Bickerstaff elected to have Jarrett Allen on the floor with Darius Garland, Kevin Love and Donovan Mitchell which is an interesting choice given Charlotte is looking to foul immediately.
The play appears to be designed for Garland with Allen as a safety valve in the backcourt. Love is standing at the top of the key like he is setting a screen but doesn’t. Oubre is able to easily face-guard Garland denying him the ball. Garland isn’t able to turn into the backcourt with Rozier waiting there as he’s covering Allen. Mitchell runs to the corner and stands there with Hayward easily denying the pass to him. Mobley doesn’t have enough time to get the ball to Love on his late show, so he’s forced to throw it into the backcourt to Allen. Allen catches the pass cleanly but nearly turns it over before getting fouled.
Allen is able to can both free throws, but it’s still a curious choice to have a career 70% free throw shooter on the floor who also isn’t comfortable handling the ball.
The game should be over now as the Cavs are up 6 with 28 seconds left, but the defensive breakdowns continue. Plumlee screens for Rozier. Allen properly steps up as Isaac Okoro switches onto Plumlee. Plumlee then screens for Washington. Okoro curiously doesn’t switch this screen after doing so seconds earlier but instead stays with Plumlee. Mobley isn’t able to get over the screen giving Washington a clean look he’s able to knock down.
The Cavs call another time out and run a much worse inbounds play here. Allen and Love appear like they’re going to set screens for Garland, but they can’t find anyone to screen. Mitchell flares to the backcourt but Charlotte is able to snuff that out with two guys waiting to take that away. This all leads to three Cavaliers standing directly in front of Mobley. He throws it into Allen who’s able to catch it, but quickly turns it over as he’s met by the three Hornets that were standing in that spot.
To add insult to injury, the NBA’s last two-minute report confirms that a five-second call should’ve been called on the inbounds.
The Cavs force a miss on the ensuing three-point attempt but aren’t able to grab the rebound cleanly. Mitchell dumps the ball off to Garland who gets tied up for a jump ball. Garland loses the tip and Charlotte immediately calls timeout.
The defense once again loses a shooter allowing the game-tying three. The Cavs snuff out the initial action. Washington sets a second screen for Rozier. Mobley and Okoro don’t switch when they should’ve. Okoro can’t get around the screen leaving Rozier open in the corner for a game-tying three. Okoro isn’t even able to get a hand up.
This would be concerning if this was the first time a meltdown like this has happened. Unfortunately for the Cavs, this is something that has occurred repeatedly throughout the first month and a half.
There is plenty of blame to go around when numerous breakdowns happen in a row. But ultimately this should be laid at the feet of the coaching staff. This was a team who failed to communicate properly, looked fatigued from only having an eight-man rotation in the second half (which is unnecessary in a November game for a team who wants to make noise in the playoffs) and lacked focus. These are all the signs of a poorly coached team in this specific situation.
This is a team still figuring out how to play together. That said, these breakdowns are inexcusable for any level of basketball. We’ll see if Bickerstaff and company are able to turn these late-game situations around as we go further into the season.
Evan Mobley shows growth as a facilitator.
Cleveland was able to pick apart Miami’s zone thanks in part to Mobley’s passing. He was able to effectively handle the double teams and deliver on-target passes to open teammates resulting in five assists.
This is becoming a more noticeable trend for the sophomore as he’s picked up three or more assists in three of his last six games.
Being able to find other ways to beat offenses is necessary for the Allen and Mobley pairing to survive offensively against better defenses. Becoming a more capable facilitator is one of the steps he can take to make that happen.
Caris LeVert has lost his spot in the starting lineup.
Bickerstaff’s choice to remove LeVert is understandable. LeVert has had a difficult time meshing with the starting lineup once Garland returned. The starting five of Garland, Mitchell, LeVert, Mobley and Allen have been outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions with a dismal 105.4 offensive rating. Dean Wade is expected to replace LeVert in the starting lineup when healthy which should be a much cleaner fit.
While the starting lineup with LeVert and Garland has been an issue, the Mitchell and LeVert pairing has succeeded on it’s own. LeVert’s ability to run pick-and-rolls while getting the bigs involved has worked well with Mitchell who isn’t as comfortable doing both.
As a result, lineups with Donovan Mitchell and LeVert without Garland have outscored opponents by 12 points with a 119.7 offensive rating and a 107.6 defensive rating. Moving LeVert to the bench and making him the first sub in for Garland like he was on Friday allows Mitchell and LeVert lineups to get more time together.
The Cavs have struggled to get consistent production from their bench outside of Kevin Love as they rank 27th in bench points. Sunday’s game was a step in the right direction as the trio of Okoro, LeVert and Cedi Osman showed a natural chemistry together. We’ll see if they’ll be able to keep that going as they spend more time together.
Darius Garland continues his strong play.
Garland has carried the momentum from last Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves into this week. He had a solid showing in the loss to Milwaukee Bucks contributing 23 points and 8 assists. Garland followed that up with a 41-point outing against Charlotte which included a game-tying three at the end of the first overtime. He then capped off the week with an effortless 25-point and seven-assist performance against the Heat on seven of 12 shooting in 28 minutes.
The synergy that he’s beginning to show with Donovan Mitchell is more impressive than his individual performances. The duo took turns dicing up the Hornets’ defense in the fourth quarter and throughout overtime to pull out the win as they combined for 75 points.
We’re still early in the season, but it’s encouraging to see that the lineup data is starting to backup what we’re seeing from them on the court. The Cavs now have a positive net rating when the two share the floor as they’ve posted a 112.3 offensive rating and a solid 111.7 defensive rating together.
The Cavs will go as far as the backcourt takes them. They went through a rough patch, but have shown steps in the right direction this week. It helps that Garland has regained his shot and looks like an all-star once again.