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One key play from Cavaliers-Pacers explained: Lamar Stevens’ game-saving block

Stevens gets the assist for what became Darius Garland game-winning free throws.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Watch Lamar Stevens here.

The block he made in the above clip was game-winning for the Cavs, or at least game-winning adjacent. Stevens, sliding off of Pacers big Jalen Smith in the dunker spot, came over at just the right time to meet Malcolm Brogdon at the rim and empathically deny Brogdon two points in a tie game.

“Lamar came out here and was a dog,” Evan Mobley said after the game. Stevens played 19 minutes off the bench for Cleveland, scoring 9 points and grabbing four rebounds to go with two blocked shots.

“That helpside defense was great,” Darius Garland said. “We expect that from Lamar.”

After the block, the Cavs grabbed the ball and the Pacers fouled Darius Garland near half court with Cleveland in the bonus. (Why they did that is unclear.) Garland made both free throws to give Cleveland a 126-124 lead. The Cavs ended up winning 127-124. Stevens, fittingly, split a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds to play for Cleveland’s final point after Dean Wade deflected a pass and Stevens came up with it before being fouled.

Stevens’ block, more than any play not made by Garland or Mobley, defined this Cavs win. At the start of the possession, Mobley was switched onto Brogdon and contained him in the initial action. Dean Wade then switched onto Brogdon after a screen, with Buddy Hield (now guarded by Mobley) clearing out from the corner to pull Mobley away from the ball. Notably, Jarrett Allen — out with a fractured finger on his left hand — was not there behind Mobley in usual spot near the rim, covering for his four teammates on the floor at a given time.

Wade then got beat. With Isaac Okoro guarding Tyrese Haliburton — 4-7 from three on the night and 40.3% on the year — on the opposite wing and Darius Garland on Duane Washington Jr. one pass away from Haliburton, Stevens was the only person there to help.

This was the Cavs in a key moment down their All-Star shot blocking center. Stevens stepped up when his team needed him most and helped them get a win they needed.

By winning against Indiana, Cleveland is now just half a game behind Boston for the fifth seed and 3.5 games above the seventh-seeded Raptors and the play-in tournament. There are just 17 games left in the Cavs’ season. Every single one matters.

“He is the originator of the junkyard dog,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said in reference to the team’s junkyard dog award. “We need that from [Lamar]. We need that, in moments, from a guy who can spark us.”