The Cleveland Cavaliers won two of their three games which included completing the season sweep of LeBron James’s Los Angeles Lakers. Here’s what we learned this week.
The Cavs have tripled their wins against LeBron.
The Lakers have shown signs of life, but are still far from a quality team. Still, it’s a step in the right direction to win both games against LeBron’s team considering Cleveland came into this season with a 1-17 record in head-to-head meetings.
We don’t need to go through what James means to this franchise and region to realize how significant this is. The Cavs might never escape LeBron’s shadow, but they’ve finally forged ahead into a promising new era without his involvement.
Donovan Mitchell continues to play his best in the biggest games.
Mitchell once again delivered when the spotlight was the brightest. He produced 43 points on 17-27 shooting with 5 assists and 6 rebounds. Mitchell closed out James’s Lakers in front of a national audience by outscoring him 17-0 in the final frame to secure the victory.
This wasn’t the first time Mitchell carried the Cavs to victory in a big game. He delivered 41 points to defeat the Boston Celtics on the road in overtime, scored 37 in his home debut against the Washington Wizards, poured in nine points in four straight possessions against the Celtics to force overtime in their second matchup, and put up 38 points and 12 assists in his first meeting against the New York Knicks who he thought was going to trade for him this summer.
That’s a pretty impressive resume for someone who’s only played 23 games with his new team.
Late game execution remains an issue.
The Cavs squandered another fourth quarter lead late against the Sacramento Kings. Cedi Osman’s layup to put the Cavs up 95-87 with 4:50 left was the last point the Cavs would score as they lost 106-95.
This is nothing new for the Cavs. They are 9-7 in games that are within five points with under five minutes to play. They have been outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when games reach this point while having a disastrous 119.2 defensive rating. Cleveland has now relinquished fourth quarter leads in five of their 10 losses.
Friday’s collapse was a perfect example of how this can happen. The offense stopped playing with the energy they had been when they got below four minutes. They tried to milk their lead and run clock which got them completely out of their flow.
Here’s a rundown of offensive possessions with four to just under two minutes left.
- Caris LeVert missed layup (3:35, 1 second left on shot clock)
- LeVert missed layup (3:03, 4 seconds left on shot clock)
- Isaac Okoro missed corner three (2:38, 6 seconds left on shot clock)
- Darius Garland missed step back three (2:27, 3 seconds left on shot clock)
- Osman missed corner three (2:00, 15 seconds left on shot clock)
- Garland missed layup (1:54, 5 seconds left on shot clock)
The Cavs then tried to speed their offense up after Sacramento grabbed a three point advantage. This led to Garland and Osman turnovers on consecutive possessions allowing the Kings to put the game away.
The Cavs normally play at a leisurely tempo as they have the slowest pace in the league. That said, their slow pace comes from being deliberate in the half court and not settling. There’s an energy to their game in the half court even though they don’t play face.
Conversely, at the end of games their pace is intentionally slow as they don’t start running their offense until the shot clock approaches 10. Their lack of ball handlers, especially with Mitchell out, only allows for them to complete one action before having to settle for a shot the defense is willing to give up. This allows opponents to run in transition off of misses and turnovers which creates the snowball affect we saw here.
Cleveland continues to get away from what makes them successful for the first 43 or so minutes during closing time. This is completely unnecessary as their natural style of play lends itself to using the clock. We’ll see if they can make adjustments and do a better job of closing out games.
There were signs of life from Caris LeVert
LeVert put together two solid outings with Mitchell out of the lineup. He finished with 22 points in both games this past weekend while contributing a combined 10 assists while being back in the starting five.
It’s easier for LeVert to play with one of Garland or Mitchell missing. His skillset overlaps both and he needs the ball to be his best self. LeVert was able to do that this weekend reminding us of who he can be offensively. Figuring out how to be that player with both Garland and Mitchell is what we need to see from him.
J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t afraid to get creative with his bigs.
The Cavs opened Tuesday’s game against LA with Allen guarding James and Evan Mobley on Anthony Davis. We never got a chance to see how this would work as Davis left early which allowed the Cavs to stick Lamar Stevens on James instead.
Cleveland has tried a similar strategy against the Milwaukee Bucks with Allen guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mobley guarding the center. This worked last season, but we haven’t gotten to see it in action for an extended stretch this season due to injuries.
Having Allen guard the more ball dominant of the two forwards is unique and something only the Cavs could get away with. Allen’s footspeed and ability to be comfortable on the perimeter makes this possible. Other teams have attempted to guard James, Antetokounmpo and other ball dominant wings with versatile centers before, but the Cavs can make this work better because they still have another rim protector on the floor in Mobley to guard the opposing center, provide help at the rim and collect rebounds.
Looking ahead to the playoffs is something this team has allowed us to do given how good they’ve been in the regular season. The defensive versatility, driven by Allen and Mobley, is the main reason to believe they can make noise in the postseason. This wrinkle is just another example of how Cleveland could be a headache for opposing offenses.
The frontcourt duo is hitting their stride.
Cleveland played it’s best basketball this week with Mobley and Allen sharing the floor. The Cavs registered a 117 offensive rating and a 101.3 defensive rating which led to outscoring opponents by 15.7 points per 100 possessions in the 77 minutes they shared the floor together this week.
Allen didn’t appear to miss a beat after returning from a lower back injury. He finished with 24 points on 11-14 shooting with 11 boards while being a +21 in the win against the Lakers. He followed that up with 21 points, 11 boards and a block in the win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Allen was however held to 9 points in 32 minutes against Sacramento as he found himself in foul trouble in the second half.
Mobley contributed solid games against the Kings and Thunder after struggling to make an impact on the offensive end against the Lakers. His continued ability to be a secondary playmaker with Allen on the floor allows those two man units to work so effectively in the half court despite the obvious spacing issues.
This week was a return to what we’ve come to expect from this unit. Unlike last season, the Cavs have not played their best basketball with the front court together. Working Mitchell into the starting lineup, the revolving door with the fifth starter and the injuries to both have made it difficult for the front court thus far. We’ll see if this is the week that gets them back on path.