The Cleveland Cavaliers made this a much closer game than the final score indicates. The shorthanded Phoenix Suns went into the fourth down one before losing the final frame 32-19.
J.B. Bickerstaff is once again experimenting with a different starting lineup.
Sunday night was the fifth time Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen were the first five. This was also the first time the lineup was used when Lamar Stevens and Caris LeVert were both active and not playing in their first game back from injury. The Cavs are now 5-1 with this starting unit.
The results have been solid overall for this lineup coming into tonight. They have outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions with an outstanding 122 offensive rating and a lackluster 118.3 defensive rating.
The lineups was somewhat of a mixed bag tonight. The Cavs got out to a slow start before a hybrid bench lineup turned a three-point lead into a 13-point advantage. The starting lineup re-entered with just over four and a half minutes to play in the second with a ten-point lead. By the time the first sub was made in the third, that lead was down to three. Overall, the lineup was a -3 in the 14 point victory.
Okoro had one of his best scoring nights of the season as he finished with 14 points on 5-9 shooting which included going 4-6 from beyond the arc. This was his second-highest scoring outing of the campaign and the ninth time he’s reached double digits in scoring this season.
Okoro canned 2 of his 3 corner triples which is something he needs to do with a much more consistently for this lineup to work as he came into this game hitting only 29.3% of his corner threes. For perspective, the league average on corner threes the past three seasons is 35.9%.
Ice is early!#LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/juTAW31rWo— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) January 9, 2023
There are no perfect options for the starting lineup. Maybe Dean Wade becomes that option when he returns from injury. Each player who’s gone through the revolving door as the fifth starter has struggled in that role before being replaced.
Okoro played well tonight. We’ll see if he’s the best of the imperfect options for the time-being.
The Cavs played with their food.
The team the Suns’ were forced to run out there was bad. They were down three opening-night starters with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Cameron Johnson out of the lineup. They also came into this one losing five straight and eight of their last ten.
Cleveland got out to a 13-point lead near the end of the first quarter and appeared to be in good position to make this a runaway blowout, but they let them off the hook. The Suns won the second and third quarters a combined 53-45 to make it a one-point game heading into the final frame.
The Cavs dominated the fourth making it the lopsided score it ended up being due to an extended 21-2 run. This run happened thanks to an energetic five-man grouping of Garland, Raul Neto, LeVert, Lamar Stevens and Evan Mobley.
Garland was the catalyst responsible for this lineup working. He notched 8 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in the final frame. This unit was able to get out and run in transition off of turnovers and rebounds as they combined for 4 steals and a block to ice the game away.
DAWG DUNKS!— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) January 9, 2023
#CavsSuns on @BallySportsCLE pic.twitter.com/ZjWGdc2Dj7
The game ended up being lopsided, but this was one that should’ve allowed J.B. Bickerstaff to keep all of his starters under 30 minutes. Instead, Mobley and Garland, who are still working their way back from injuries, played nearly 35 minutes in the win.
Darius Garland and Kevin Love get rare dunks.
Everything was going right for the Cavs from halfway through the first quarter and into the beginning of the second. This included Garland getting his second dunk of his NBA career.
His only other dunk came in Tampa against the 2020-21 Toronto Raptors
Kevin Love followed suit by registering his second dunk of the season. His first came in a win against the Boston Celtics in November.
"Nostra-Daugherty calls it again!" #LetEmKnow | @BradDaugherty43 pic.twitter.com/reoSYIRpe0— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) January 9, 2023
It’s unlikely we’ll see both of these things happen again in the same game.
Caris LeVert continued his string of good play.
The Cavs played their best with LeVert on the floor. He was apart of their run in the first quarter to grab a 13-point lead and was a key contributor in the game clinching Cavalance in the fourth. He finished the night with 13 points on 6-10 shooting with 7 assists and 3 steals in the win. LeVert was also a game high +26. He is now averaging 16.6 points and 3 assists on .477/.432/.727 shooting splits in his last seven games.
There will be a lot of chatter about whether the Cavs should move on from LeVert in the coming weeks. He’s the most tradable player on a team lacking movable draft picks. LeVert’s recent play makes that conversation more difficult. It’ll be interesting to see how Koby Altman and company handle LeVert and the deadline with the impending return of Ricky Rubio.
Up next: Donovan Mitchell returns to Salt Lake City as the Cavs take on the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, January 10. Tip-off is 9 PM EST.