The Cleveland Cavaliers had three quarters of good basketball Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The problem was the fourth quarter.
In a 112-100 loss, Cleveland was outscored 34-22 in the fourth. Whether that was the Cavs gassing out the second night of a back-to-back or a team being outplayed is open to interpretation. But it means Cleveland finishes this road trip 1-2 and, with the Miami Heat beating the Orlando Magic on Friday, only 1.5 games up on the Heat for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs and Heat face off Tuesday in Cleveland.
Defending SGA to no avail
Go back and look at the kinds of shots Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made against the Cavs. These were not, for the most part, easy looks or gifted buckets. Isaac Okoro and Lamar Stevens, the two Cavs primarily defending Gilgeous-Alexander, did their job in being physical with him and bodying him up as he went into the lane.
Gilgeous-Alexander was just better than them and was excellent at drawing fouls. He dropped a game-high 35 points on 12-21 shooting while making only one three-pointers. Ten of his points came from free throw line.
To the Cavs’ credit, it wasn’t SGA that killed them in the fourth quarter — he had only 4 of the Thunder’s 34 points on 2-2 shooting — but his play before definitely loosened up the Cavs’ defense to allow for open looks on the perimeter late. Maybe Cleveland also ran out of gas, but they were unable to survive everything Gilgeous-Alexander brought to the table,
The three-point difference
The Cavs, once again, where done in by hot three-point shooting from their opponents. Oklahoma City finished 4-7 from three in the fourth and 10-18 overall. The Cavs, by comparison, were 8-29 from three with Isaac Okoro finishing 0-3, Caris LeVert finishing 0-6, Dean Wade finishing 1-4 and Cedi Osman 1-3.
That’s the game right there. And late, when the Cavs fell down by double digits and tried to make one last push, they ran out a five man lineup Darius Garland, LeVert, Lamar Stevens, Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Not only does that group struggle to take and make three-pointers, but it was so cramped that Garland was met by multiple bodies every time he drove into the lane. Scoring for him became that much harder and he didn’t have shooters to kick out to.
The Cavs need more stretch to be at their best. Donovan Mitchell will help, surely. A healthy Kevin Love would matter too. But there’s also choices made in game that could help provide the stretch that may have made his game more competitive.
Evan Mobley, making three-pointers
A small moment in this game was Evan Mobley making his first three-pointer since Dec. 17. He actually hit two, his seventh career game with multiple three-point makes.
21 points and a pair of triples for Evan Mobley!#LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/cVRBuPcJwP— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) January 28, 2023
Put a pin in this — it might mean nothing. Mobley has been taking open three-pointers like the ones he made Friday since he last made one. He missed all 22 of those attempts. It’s possible he’ll not make another one for a while again — there’s nothing in the numbers that suggests Mobley is a good three-point shooter or just needed to make a few to become interesting.
If you’re looking for Mobley offensive growth, look at him to make pull-up jumpers around the elbow, creating for others or being physical on finishes around the rim. Those are parts of his game that he’s been excelling at lately that are more sustainable than his three-point shooting.
Up next: The Cavs return home to host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.