Here’s what we learned this week.
The Cavs can defeat LeBron James.
There is nothing special about beating this Los Angeles Lakers team as they are one of the worst teams in the league. That said, defeating LeBron James, no matter how bad the Lakers are, is a big deal for this franchise.
James is now 17-2 against his former team with the only other loss coming 4,240 days prior at the hands of Baron Davis’s team. His shadow over this organization still exists even when he resides on the other side of the country. This was evident last season as the Cavs dropped both games against a worse LA team despite having chances to win both before James bullied them down the stretch.
The Cavs seemed to be going down that same path again on Sunday as James’s Lakers opened up with a 36-point first quarter and took a six-point lead into halftime. Cleveland’s defense responded in the second half as they only allowed 36 total points in the final two quarters to secure a runaway win.
Donovan Mitchell on the Cavs beating a LeBron James team pic.twitter.com/Yfz8Fy33La— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) November 6, 2022
This is the first Cavs’ team since LeBron entered the league twenty years ago that has a chance to compete for a title without his presence. Accordingly, the Cavs were the bullies who dispatched James in the second half as the roles were reversed this time around.
This felt like the passing of the torch from one era of Cavalier basketball to another.
The Cavs are Eastern Conference contenders.
Last week’s overtime road win against the Boston Celtics was impressive as Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert both scored 41 points each. It’s noteworthy anytime you can defeat the defending conference champions in their own building. But, needing matching 41-point performances to get a win isn’t something you can readily count on. Following up on that performance less than a week later is often much harder to do.
The Cavs took the Celtics’ best punch on Wednesday night and were still able to get the win. Boston did a good job of making life difficult for Mitchell who wasn’t able to score as efficiently in the second go-around as he finished with 25 points on 11 of 27 shooting.
Fortunately for Mitchell, Darius Garland was able to contribute 29 points and 12 assists in his return to the lineup.
The Cavs currently have the best point differential in the league while having the second-best defense. Winning both games against the defending conference champions in the way they did shows that those numbers likely aren’t a small sample anomaly.
Evan Mobley can block eight shots in a game.
Mobley has a way of routinely making the impossible look ordinary. This time, he decided to block eight shots in Friday night’s win.
Mobley was the first player this season to finish a game with eight or more rejections. Two players accomplished this feat last season and four the season before that. That’s pretty impressive stuff from a 21-year-old who also spent his previous game shadowing Jayson Tatum down the stretch.
Point Kevin Love is a thing.
Whether by accident or design, the Cavs’ hybrid bench unit fits perfectly with Love’s game. Their ability to space the floor, cut and having one of Jarrett Allen or Mobley who can attack and protect the rim allows Love to do what he does best against opposing bench units. As a result, Love has the best net rating on the team as they are outscoring opponents by 22.1 points per 100 possessions with Love on while posting a 121 offensive rating and a 98.9 defensive rating.
We saw why that is the case in Friday’s win against the Detroit Pistons as Love finished the outing with 21 points and 10 assists. His shooting, passing and ability to attack smaller defenders in the post allow him to lead productive offenses when he is forced to like he was with Garland and Mitchell out of the lineup.
In this play we see Love draw Isaiah Stewart to the top of the arc leaving Saddiq Bey to guard Allen. A simple screen from Allen frees up Osman. Love hits Osman in stride who is then able to lob it to a streaking Allen. This is made possible because you simply can’t leave Love (who is a 43.6% above-the-break three-point shooter) any room to shoot at the top of the arc.
Here, the Cavs were able to find Love on the elbow which is a spot he was so deadly from with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jaden Ivey completely falls asleep on the below play which allows Lamar Stevens to get a clean run to the basket. Love makes him pay by delivering an on-time and on-target pass for the bucket.
Lastly, the below play is another example of how Love playing with a team suited to his skillset helps. Osman is able to find Love as a trailer on the wing. A pump fake from Love forces Isaiah Livers to close out hard which allows Love to dribble around him. Stewart steps up to take away the drive. Having shooters like Osman and Caris LeVert at the top of the arc that the defense is reluctant to leave alone gives Allen a free run to the basket as Love hits him with a bounce pass.
Gaudy numbers like what we saw in Detroit are certainly the exception. That said, Love’s ability to impact winning remains constant in most matchups (teams who can go small with super versatile wings like Boston will always be a tough matchup for Love). It’s no coincidence that the Cavs have played some of their best basketball with him on the floor.
The backcourt fit works.
The Cavs will go as far as their frontcourt and backcourt take them. The fit between the two individuals of those units will determine just how good they can be as a whole. We know that Allen and Mobley were a complimentary fitting based on last season. Although they’ve only played three regular season games together so far, it’s becoming more and more clear that the Garland and Mitchell pairing is and will continue to work. Their two games against the Lakers and Celtics make this clear in different ways.
The Cavs’ offense couldn’t get anything going at all in the first half against LA as Mobley and Allen found themselves both in early foul trouble. Garland and Mitchell took turns carrying the offense as they both scored 21 first-half points apiece on a combined 12 of 20 shooting. This allowed the Cavs to stay close at the half in a game they had no business competing in. The rest of the team showed up in the second half leading to a double-digit victory.
The end of regulation and overtime against Boston showed that the pairing can work in crunch time of a high-intensity game. The duo displayed a natural chemistry down the stretch as the contest devolved into a half-court affair between two stout defenses. Mitchell had the hot hand during the final two and a half minutes of regulation as he scored nine points in four straight possessions.
Garland ceded control of the offense during this stretch but not in a your-turn-my-turn way. There is a natural flow in the way they share the ball and control of the offense which is not typical to find in an all-star backcourt pairing this early into their time together. Also, having the ability to connect on plays like this certainly helps their chemistry.
We will need to see how this pairing works over a longer period before jumping to too many conclusions. That said, they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start through two and a half games together.