As NBA games go, this was an easy one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Donovan Mitchell out, the Cavs still cruised to a 113-95 over the Houston Rockets on Thursday. With the win, the Cavs improve to 10-15 on the road and are now 1-1 on their current three-game road trip.
A needed easy win
Life has not been easy for the Cavs in recent weeks. It’s been some time — maybe going back to mid December — where they got an easy win.
That changed Thursday. This game was largely over after the first quarter, where Cleveland led 37-25 after one. At halftime, the Cavs hit a season-best 74 first-half points. Everything, from that opening quarter on, felt really easy for the Cavs.
This maybe shouldn’t have been surprising. The Rockets were on the second night of a back-to-back. Houston is also a bad team, ranking near the bottom in the league in net rating and defense and dead last in offense coming into Thursday. Objectively, this is a bad team and maybe the worst team in the NBA this season. The Cavs should have been expected to come in and clean up.
But they had to do it. Let’s see if this builds into something more going forward, but this was an easy win for a team in need of one.
The Cavs’ spacing was as good as its been
An adjustment the Cavs made in this game was playing more spaced out, even without Mitchell and Kevin Love available due to injury. There was the room to work that they need.
How this happened feels related to lineup choices from J.B. Bickerstaff. Lamar Stevens did play, but not in the first half and only a handful of minutes. Instead of 15-20 minutes for Stevens, Cedi Osman played 20 minutes and change — a big uptick from the 2:49 he played against the Knicks earlier this week. Dean Wade, getting Love’s minutes, was 4-7 from three. Garland got up eight threes of his own, making five.
The Cavs need this kind of spacing to really function on offense. Too often their spacing feels cramped and, in an effort, to put defenders on the floor, play multiple non-shooters together. Osman and Wade can be used to get the Cavs out of that style and force them into something more open. They are a better team when they do.
Both Garland and Isaac Okoro celebrated their birthdays on Thursday, turning 23 and 22 respectively. Both had standout performances on their birthday.
Garland led the way with Mitchell out, carrying the offense load for most of the game. He stepped up as a scorer, finishing with a team-high 26 points on 9-16 shooting. But he was his usual trustworthy self as a passer too, posting 9 assists vs. just one turnover. The game was under his control.
Okoro, meanwhile, only finished with 5 points on 2-5 shooting. But he did make another three-pointer and had a strong and-one on the drive from the corner.
Most importantly, Okoro was the main reason Rockets guard Jalen Green was held to a season-low six points on 2-9 shooting. The only two shots Green made the entire game were two three-pointers late in the first half. Other than those shots, he had no room to breathe with Okoro on him everywhere and both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley waiting for him in the paint.
Up next: The Cavs play tomorrow against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the last game of this three-game road trip. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.