The final score wasn’t as one-sided as this game felt at times as the Cleveland Cavaliers got out to a 24-point lead midway through the third quarter. They let their foot off the gas to close the third and fourth quarters. However, this at no point felt like a game the Brooklyn Nets could win.
Cedi Osman at power forward helped the Cavs get back into the game
J.B. Bickerstaff has experimented in recent games with going with smaller bench units with Cedi Osman at the four. This was done by necessity with Jarrett Allen out of the lineup and Dean Wade falling out of the rotation. With Allen back the Cavs have enough rotation players to avoid lineups with Osman at the four lineups.
Cleveland had a tough time getting anything going offensively in the first quarter. They finished the opening frame with just 23 points on 42.9% shooting while uncharacteristically turning it over 5 times leading to a seven-point deficit.
Bickerstaff opted to open the second with a small-ball unit of Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman and Evan Mobley. This unit quickly turned the deficit into a one-point advantage before subbing in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen for Mitchell and Mobley. The Osman at the four lineups kept working through this and other substitutions until Cedi was eventually subbed out with three minutes left in the quarter. When he exited, the Cavs were up 9 as the offense put up 30 points in that nine-minute stretch.
Osman playing well in the second quarter which certainly helped the lineup work. He knocked down all three of his attempts from distance as he finished the frame with 9 points, 4 boards and 3 assists. Having the spacing he provides at the four while having the personnel to play faster opened up the offense in a way that is uncharacteristic for this team.
Osman at the four isn’t something the Cavs have gone to much this season with Kevin Love, Lamar Stevens and Wade sharing the backup power forward role at various times. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Cavs have only played 644 possessions with Osman at the four. They have outscored opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions with a blistering 121.3 offensive rating and 108.4 defensive rating with him at the four.
This is a relatively small sample size. It’s also worth pointing out this is only possible against teams that like to play small like the Nets. That said, you need different tools in your toolbox going into possibly multiple playoff series. This Osman at the four look could be a useful lineup in the right matchup.
The Cavs are the more talented team
There’s been a lot of focus recently on what the Cavs need to do to make the leap to the next level. While it’s a conversation that needs to be had at some point, it ignores how good this team is.
The Cavs have the best net rating in the league for a reason. They are more talented than a majority of the teams they play and can beat them on that fact alone. We saw that tonight. Cleveland had a rough start, but once they got going the Nets didn’t have many counters.
Mitchell and Garland were both sensational on the offensive end as is the case more often than not. Mobley once again played world-class defense while putting up 17 points of his own. Allen is still one of the best traditional centers in the league who’s vertical spacing opens up the entire offense. There simply aren’t many teams that can hang with this quartet.
You won’t see many better dunks than Donovan Mitchell’s tonight
Mitchell does something incredible seemingly every night. But, we haven’t seen him do anything quite like the dunk he had over Yuta Watanabe.
Are you serious, Spida?! pic.twitter.com/SRSAz0kLAS— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) March 22, 2023
Watch Donovan Mitchell show you how a poster is made. #LetEmKnow | @Cavs pic.twitter.com/i5hLEvumvW— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) March 22, 2023
The dunk might not have even been his most impressive play of the night.
This shammgod by Donovan Mitchell pic.twitter.com/hkg3kUckjC— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 22, 2023
Caris LeVert’s hot streak continues
Tuesday was another great showing for LeVert as he finished with 18 points on 5-9 shooting which included going 3-6 from three. He also contributed 4 assists and 2 steals.
LeVert’s outside shooting will regress at some point. However, the encouraging thing remains where he’s getting his shots from and that he’s still able to use his off-the-dribble skills to get others involved even when he isn’t settling for those 10 to 15 foot jumpers as often.
The Cavs are a good but flawed team. This version of LeVert that is taking a majority of his shots from distance and isn’t settling has the ability to be what allows this group to reach it’s ceiling for this season.
Koby Altman’s biggest gamble of the regular season was standing pat at the trade deadline while nearly every other team was making deals. It would’ve been easy to justify moving on from LeVert, but he didn’t. That decision paid off once again tonight.
Welcome back Jarrett Allen
Allen didn’t have a memorable game, but his presence alone made the Cavs a much more functional team. The starting lineup was better, the rotations were cleaner and it allowed Mobley to play the four with the starting lineup which is still his better defensive position.
Cleveland is at its best when it has the versatility to have elite guard and big man play for 48 minutes. They had that ability once again tonight due to Allen’s return from injury. He finished the evening with 12 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Up next: The Cavs will look to complete the mini-series sweep on Thursday as they faceoff against the Nets again. Tip time is 7:30 p.m.