For the eleventh time this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to overcome a double-digit deficit as they picked up an ugly win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Cavs did this without the services of Donovan Mitchell for much of the second half as he left the game midway through the third with a groin injury.
The Cavs won in the trenches.
An afternoon contest with both teams either on or coming off of an extended road trip is a recipe for a sloppy game. That’s mostly what we got.
The Cavs had a tough time establishing anything offensively. The outside shot, which has been an issue over the last handful of games, once again abandoned them. On the afternoon, Cavaliers not named Darius Garland connected on just 4 of their 18 attempts (22.2%) from beyond the arc.
The Cavs made up for this by dominating the paint. They outscored New Orleans 52-40 inside while having a 19-8 advantage in second-chance points. With the help of Jarrett Allen’s 7 offensive rebounds, the Cavs were able to collect 34.1% of their missed shots.
Defensively, the Cavs held the Pelicans to just 63.2% shooting at the rim while also doing a good job of keeping them away from the basket. Counting shooting fouls, only 24 of the Pelicans’ 84 shot attempts (28.5%) came at the rim. Thirty were midrange attempts. On top of that, the Cavs were able to clear the defensive glass well as New Orleans only grabbed 3 offensive rebounds.
The Cavs did everything required to win an ugly game like this. The Pelicans did not.
The big men came to play.
Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley were a big reason why the Cavs were able to get the win.
Allen was dominant in the paint. He finished all 7 of his attempts at the rim en route to 24 points on 9-12 shooting with 11 boards, 7 offensive rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block.
Not to be outdone by his front-court mate, Mobley had a strong 19-point performance on 8-10 shooting with 8 rebounds and a block. Like Allen, Mobley converted all of his looks at the rim. The duo combined to go 15-15 in the restricted area.
The Pelicans are a lengthy, interchangeable, but small team that relies on their speed and length on both ends. The front court was able to dominate their smaller front line that was without the services of Zion Williamson. This was the ideal performance against a smaller front line opponent and not something the Cavs have always been able to do against teams like this.
Ricky Rubio continues to make his presence felt in his limited minutes.
Fortunately for the Cavs, Rubio is making the most of the minutes he is on the floor. The box score doesn’t show he did anything special against New Orleans. The veteran guard finished with just 2 points on 1-4 shooting with 1 rebound and zero assists in under 17 minutes of play. That said, the Cavs won those 17 minutes by 13 points.
Rubio’s presence and leadership help everyone to be the best version of themselves. His ability to make high IQ plays offensively and defensively allows the Cavs to be greater than the sum of their parts. That matters in a game they’re not connecting from outside and are missing their best player for most of the second half.
Darius Garland closes out the win.
Garland, like many of his teammates, didn’t come out strong which contributed to the early deficit. That changed in the second half. The former All-Star point guard added 25 points on 7-14 shooting, including going 4-6 from deep, along with 8 assists in the second half alone. Fourteen of those 21 points came in the fourth to close out the game including two big pull-up threes to save an unconventional closing lineup.
The Cavs were in a weird place today. Mitchell went down midway through the third. Rubio is still on a minutes restriction and couldn’t close. Caris LeVert had a bad showing while struggling mightily on both ends. This forced J.B. Bickerstaff to close with Isaac Okoro and Lamar Stevens along with the remaining three members of the starting lineup.
Okoro and Stevens had strong outings. Okoro’s confidence continues to improve each game as well as he converted 2-4 corner threes. That said, lineups with Okoro and Stevens have unsurprisingly struggled offensively. Five-man units featuring these two have produced a poor 106.7 offensive rating, which is in the 6th percentile. Their similar skillsets can make it difficult to generate in the half court.
Those concerns don’t matter when Garland performs with the skill and confidence he displayed today. He was able to shoot over the defense while also generating good looks for his other four teammates, allowing the Cavs to close with a defensive first lineup befitting the tenor of this game.
Garland concluded the afternoon with 30 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds.
Up next: The Cavs head back out on the road as face the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. EST.