It was another week of uneven play. The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped road games to the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder but were able to pick up wins against a dreadful Houston Rockets team and the resting Los Angeles Clippers.
Here’s what we learned from it all.
The floor spacing was not good late in games.
The Cavs weren’t able to pull out close games in New York and OKC. The late-game execution, and lack of spacing, was partly to blame for that.
Cleveland shot 4-13 from the field against the Knicks in the final two minutes with the closing lineup of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. New York forced the two guards to finish in traffic, shoot over the defense or trust one of their non-shooters.
The below play was emblematic of what the offense was facing. Garland uses an Allen screen at the wing to try and create something at the basket. Mitchell’s defender stays glued to him, but the other four collapse to the paint cutting off any driving lane or a pass to Allen. Having Mobley and Okoro in the corners allows two New York defenders to easily sag off and provide additional support.
Garland does get off a clean look here as no one attempts to contest the floater from just inside the free-throw line. There were however four Knick defenders in the paint at the time of this shot.
Mitchell went 1-7 in the final four minutes with his one make coming off of an incredible step-back three. His six misses came at the rim after driving inside and not being able to finish over traffic. This caused Mitchell to try and score in transition before the defense could get set which resulted in ill-advised attempts like this. Although not ideal, it’s hard to blame him considering what looks they were generating down the stretch in the half-court.
This problem was exaggerated in OKC with Mitchell out of the lineup. The Cavs lost this game in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Cavs went from tied to down double digits after an extended 21-8 run from OKC.
This is a good example of how things were going during this stretch. Garland gets a screen from Mobley. The pass to Mobley doesn’t materialize. Kicking it out to Caris LeVert, who finished that game 1-12 from the field, didn’t appear to be an option. Garland instead opts for an off-balance hook shoot with four Thunder in the vicinity and Kenrich Williams providing a good contest.
Some of the late-game execution concerns have been blown out of proportion. The Cavs haven’t been as bad as they were against New York and OKC throughout the season. However, this week did show the spacing issues that come with playing two-bigs and other shooters defenses don’t respect. If the guards aren’t making pull-up threes or drawing contact on drives, it can be tough to generate decent late game looks.
Good offense beats good defense.
As pointed out above, the Cavs didn’t execute well on the offensive end in their losses to New York and Oklahoma City. They were also on the wrong end of superb shot making performances from Julius Randle and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Randle had one of his best nights of the season as he put up 36 points on 11-21 shooting including going 8-12 from distance.
SGA had a similar outing a couple games later as he compiled 35 points on 12-21 shooting with 8 assists and 2 steals.
The Cavs have had poor defensive performances since the start of the New Year, but neither of these games were examples of that. The Cavs did a good job of keeping Randle out of the paint as he was just 3-9 for twos on the evening.
Likewise, Cleveland forced Gilgeous-Alexander into difficult, contested twos. The issue was he made them while making a habit of getting to the line.
There are things the Cavs could’ve done better in both games. But, it serves as a reminder that good shot making will always beat good defense. The way to overcome that is to provide an answer on the offensive end which the Cavs weren’t able to do.
Dean Wade has shown positive signs since his return.
Wade has looked solid in his first five games back after missing a month and a half with a shoulder injury. His 15 points on 4-7 shooting from three in Houston was encouraging.
This team desperately needs shooting and someone who can guard bigger threes. It’s unlikely the Cavs will be able to find someone who can do both given the limited number of teams selling and their lack of movable assets.
The best path to finding that guy is Wade becoming the ideal version of himself. It’ll be interesting to see how the minutes distribution works between him, Okoro and the other wings vying for minutes in the rotation once Wade is off his minutes limit and back up to speed.
Darius Garland continues to be the point guard this team needs.
Turnovers have been a problem at times for Garland throughout his career. His turnover parentage has been high even for a guard as he’s registered a turnover percentage of 16.3% (9th percentile), 14.8% (23rd percentile) and 14.5% (28th percentile) over the first three seasons of his career.
He has done this while keeping his assists in the same ballpark they were in last season (8.6 compared to 8.2). This week was an excellent example of what the full picture can look like when he’s at his best as he totaled 38 assists to just 5 turnovers. On the month he now has 117 assists to 29 turnovers which has resulted in a 4.03 assist to turnover ratio.
Turnovers aren’t always the worst thing for a point guard with the ball in their hands that much. Especially one like Garland who has struggled with being aggressive at various points of his young career. It’s a balancing act.
That said, in an ideal world you have a point guard who racks up assists without turning the ball over. Garland continues to get closer to that ideal version.