Donovan Mitchell’s jump ball theatrics turned the game around.
Cleveland looked lethargic for the first three quarters. The defense that had been on a tear the last ten games was a step slow. They were giving up dribble drives while also surrendering open looks from beyond the arc. The offense also seemed directionless outside of Mitchell
That changed early in the fourth. With the Cavs down 98-86 with just over 10 minutes to play, Mitchell fouled Bennedict Mathurin in an attempt to force a jump ball. Mitchell refused to let go of the ball which led to a mild skirmish that reenergized the crowd and his teammates.
“Sometimes, you’ve gotta just… #LetEmKnow .”— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) December 17, 2022
Speaking to the trash talk and simultaneously praising the young Pacers’ confidence, Donovan Mitchell and the #Cavs responded in a big way. (Had to, sorry @spidadmitchell.) @basketbllnews pic.twitter.com/gL6sFFWgmS
The moment also seemed to light a fire under Mitchell. He was unstoppable from that point on as he outscored the Pacers by himself 16-14 to close the game.
Mitchell nearly singlehandedly delivered a victory in a game the Cavs had no business being close in. He finished the night with 41 points on 14-24 shooting, which included going 8-15 from behind the arc, with 3 assists and a rebound.
Great players often find weird ways to motivate themselves and their teammates. Mitchell’s extra effort did that tonight for Cleveland.
The Cavs dominated clutch time.
The Cavs have had a difficult time closing games at various points. That wasn’t the case tonight as Cleveland outscored Indiana 32-16 over the final ten minutes and 9-2 in the final five.
The defense struggled to keep Indiana away from the rim (22-31, 70.9%) and from attempting threes (11-35, 31.4%). The Cavs were able to pick up the intensity and effort in the closing minutes to cut off efficient looks at the rim and from deep.
The defense tightening up accompanied with extraordinary shot making of Mitchell allowed the Cavs to get over the hump.
The offense outside of Mitchell still hasn’t been great.
The Cavs came into this game with the worst offensive rating in the league over their last ten games (108.7). This includes being held under 100 points three times despite Mitchell averaging 27.5 points on .503/.439/943 during that timeframe.
Not being able to reliably hit outside shots is a big reason why this is the case. Including tonight, Cavaliers not named Mitchell are hitting on just 28.3% of their outside looks in the last eleven contests. This includes the team connecting on 6-16 from beyond the arc excluding Mitchell tonight.
Darius Garland was able to knockdown 2-4 outside looks tonight, but the grouping of him, Kevin Love and Cedi Osman are all individually hitting below 32% of their threes during this stretch. It’s very difficult for an offense that plays slow and relies heavily on non-shooting, defensive first forwards to get by if this group isn’t consistently hitting from deep.
Mitchell’s 41 points tonight covered up a lot of the issues for an offense that can get stagnant at times.
Caris LeVert looked good with the core four.
LeVert was out there for the entire fourth quarter while playing a supporting role in the comeback. He was a team high +17 on the night while contributing 6 points and 5 boards in the final frame.
Cleveland made their run with Garland, Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and LeVert together. His ancillary playmaking and ability to be a release valve on offense helped keep the flow going on a night Lamar Stevens didn’t have his best stuff.
Finding a fifth man to go alongside the core four has been a balancing act. This has forced J.B. Bickerstaff to roll with the hot hand down the stretch of many games like he did tonight with LeVert.
LeVert has had a difficult time adjusting to playing alongside both Garland and Mitchell together. That said, he’s still the fifth best healthy player on the roster. They desperately need to continue to find ways to make him comfortable within that five man unit.
Up next: The Cavs take on the Dallas Mavericks for the second time this week on Saturday night. Tip-off is at 8 p.m.