The Cleveland Cavaliers, in a tightly-contested, playoff-esque game against the Miami Heat, came up just short.
Held to just 18 points in the fourth quarter, Cleveland lost to Miami 100-97 on Tuesday night at home. The loss cuts the Cavs’ lead over the Heat for the fifth seed in the East down to 1.5 games.
Evan Mobley, defensive superstar
From the opening tip, the Cavaliers made a playoff-like adjustment: Putting Evan Mobley on Jimmy Butler.
The idea made sense. Put Mobley on Butler and throw something different at him in an effort to disrupt his flow. On top of that, Mobley can still play in help since Butler isn’t an off-ball shooting threat and Mobley recovers as well as anyone. This choice also allowed Isaac Okoro to defend Tyler Herro, putting him into the point of attack defensive role he’s best at.
Butler got Mobley a few times — twice, he drew fouls and Butler found a clutch bucket late after Mobley fought around a screen to contest. But go back and watch the tape — Mobley made Butler uncomfortable. Butler had a hard time getting into Mobley’s space to either draw a foul or get to his spots. Mobley’s defense on Butler was the core reason why the Cavs kept the Heat at 100 points and with an offensive rating of 108.7, nearly four points below their offensive rating for the season.
Mobley, on the whole, was the Cavs’ best player against the Heat. He took a three late that perhaps was ill advised. But he finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-15 shooting and looked confident in getting to his spots. He also had 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
Needing more from Mitchell and Garland
This is not something that has been for much of this season. But the Cavaliers needed more Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland on Tuesday.
Mitchell and Garland combined for 6 points in the fourth quarter — 1 for Mitchell, 5 for Garland. For the game, they finished with a combined 32 points on 13-30 shooting. Neither was at their best and, as the Cavs were competing in a close game against a good team, they needed their star guards to produce. That didn’t happen.
Mitchell never looked settled as a scorer. It felt like he was spending a lot of the night looking for a shot or two to get him into rhythm and it just didn’t happen. Even the buzzer-beating three he hit at the end of the third — the kind of shot that, on another night, might have got him going — didn’t.
As for Garland, this was as out of sorts as he’s looked. Maybe he was pressing. Maybe the Heat’s defense — one of the best and more unorthodox in the league — gave him some fits. But he wasn’t his normal controlled self. He picked up five fouls, perhaps playing into his off night. He finished with 5 assists against 3 turnovers — a far cry from the 9 or 10 assists he often racks up against 1 or 2 assists.
Free throw disparity
Fun (or not so fun, depending on how you look at it) fact: Jimmy Butler took more free throws (15) than the Cavs took as a team (12). He also made more free throws (10) than the Cavs made as a team (6).
Butler getting to the free throw line frequently isn’t a surprise — he’s been one of the league’s elite players at getting to the line since he’s been in the league. Even on a night where Mobley put some checks on Butler, he did that.
Up next: The Cavs are at home on Thursday against Memphis. Tipoff against the Grizzlies is at 7:30 p.m.