The Cleveland Cavaliers went into New Orleans on Friday night and took care of business, Behind 30 points from Donovan Mitchell and 28-point, 13-rebound night from Evan Mobley, the Cavs beat the Pelicans 118-107.
A dominant first half
A dominant first half is how Cleveland won.
With Darius Garland in foul trouble and limited to seven minutes, the Cavs still hummed along. Donovan Mitchell was 8-14 from the field, 2-5 from three and 3-3 from the line for 21 points. Evan Mobley stepped up too, shooting 8-10 from the field and 2-2 from the line for 18 points. As a team, the Cavs shot 61.7% from the field and 35.7% from three in the first half.
Mitchell and Mobley being great was part of that, sure. But the Cavs also played with pace, pushing off of misses and denying the Pelicans real chances to set up their defense. That push, 46-24 scoring advantage in the paint and a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points gave Cleveland a 73-56 advantage at the half.
This feels like one of the halves the Cavs have played all season. Without Garland — whose control and feel for the game unlocks so much — and no Ricky Rubio — resting on the first night of a back-to-back — the offense looked fine. There was nothing New Orleans did that pressed Cleveland at all.
Mobley, defensive superstar
Mobley had an All-Defense level performance against the Pelicans. Look at this defense on Naji Marshall — he baits Marshall into the drive here and just erases the shot to kickstart a fastbreak.
Then he does things like this — he’s so alert inside even when he gets turned around. This is elite, elite play for anyone, much less a second-year pro.
Mobley is so good at this. He recovers so quickly and knows exactly when he needs to. It's wildly impressive. https://t.co/GdkCwEN6Q1— Danny Cunningham (@RealDCunningham) February 11, 2023
The most impressive thing Mobley did, however, was contain Brandon Ingram. That was Mobley’s assignment vs. the Pelicans’ starting lineup — there was no having Isaac Okoro defend up or trying some other look. Mobley took on the assignment, not unlike how he defended Miami’s Jimmy Butler a few weeks back.
He did great against Butler. He was great against vs. Ingram.
Ingram still had a decent night, leading the Pelicans with 25 points on 8-15 shooting. But go back and watch the film — he never looked comfortable against Mobley. His big moments came when he drove against Dean Wade or found room for a pull-up against Jarrett Allen on a switch. When Mobley was on him, he passed the ball off or called for a screen to get Wade on him, only for Mobley to more often than not just slide by the screen and get back onto Ingram.
Pair his defense with his offensive impact and it’s easy to argue that Mobley was the best player on the floor Friday night in New Orleans.
Mitchell, looking like himself
Mitchell’s recent stretch has not been anywhere near the All-NBA level he started the season out at. He’s look bothered by that nagging groin injury, not looking as explosive or confident as he did to begin the season.
Friday night saw Mitchell playing like the All-NBA guy again. He got over 30 points for the first time in over a month. He was bouncy and physical in everything he did. This drive (and the lift on his jump shot) tells the story:
A LeVert screen gets Mitchell matched up vs. CJ McCollum, so Mitchell goes right downhill. He dribbles in, spins away from Jonas Valanciunas and explodes just at the right moment to draw a foul and get the and-one.
If Mitchell’s back, that’s great news for the Cavs. The best version of Cleveland is when Mitchell is playing like this and driving the offense up another level.
Caris LeVert, doing what he needs to
LeVert, still around after the trade deadline, played the right kind of game for what his role with the Cavs is.
He over 30 minutes off of the bench (certainly in part because Rubio was out) and did exactly what he needed to do. LeVert played his stop-start offense game, racked up assists and scored in spots where the shots presented themselves.
If LeVert can take the threes that come his way, offer some supplemental ball handling and try on defense, that’s all you need from him. His final stat line — 13 points on 5-10 shooting and 9 assists — is right where he’ll be at his best playing off of Mitchell and Garland.
Up next: The Cavs are back in action tomorrow at home the second night of a back-to-back. Tipoff against the Chicago Bulls is at 8 p.m.