The Cleveland Cavaliers won all three of their games this week to clinch their first trip to the playoffs since 2018. In the process they’ve won nine of their last eleven contests. Here’s what we learned from their three most recent wins.
Evan Mobley continues to make the offensive leap
It wasn’t too uncommon to hear prior to the season that Mobley could become a 20 and 10 offensive player in his prime. The second-year big has nearly become that over his last two months of play. Since the beginning of February, Mobley is averaging 18.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3 assists with a 56.3 effective field goal percentage.
This week was a prime example of how he was able to do that. In the three wins, Mobley averaged 20.7 points on 64.3% shooting from the floor. His performance Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets was the perfect example of what Mobley can bring to the table offensively as he contributed 26 points on 11-18 shooting.
Evan Mobley’s development into a play-finishing dynamo rightfully should have everybody giddy as heck about this man pic.twitter.com/L8NUPisoId— Brayden Todd (@BraydenBallin) March 24, 2023
Mobley’s high level skill, like being able to take it coast-to-coast and finish with his off-hand, is what sets him apart, but his ability to pick and choose how and when to attack is what makes him special. He plays with a deliberateness and intelligence that allows him to seemingly never get rushed while consistently making the correct play over and over again.
The scary thing is, he’s still only scratching the surface of what he can be offensively.
Darius Garland’s on/off numbers remain absurd
The Cavs have played their best basketball with Garland on the court. This has been true all season, but has been exaggerated in recent weeks. Since the beginning of March, the Cavs have outscored opponents by a 14.8 points per 100 possessions with Garland on the floor. With him off, they have been outscored by 5.4 points. That’s a difference of 20.2 points per 100 possessions in 12 games.
Garland’s counting stats have been good in March, but not otherworldly like the impact stats would make you think. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 7.6 assists on .456/.373/.791 shooting splits.
The biggest difference for the Cavs with Garland on compared with him off is the pace in which they play. The Cavs have played at a very deliberate 95.9 pace with Garland on in March compared with the fast, for their standards, 100.5 pace.
The slower pace allows the Cavs, and specifically Garland, to dictate the terms on both ends. At their best, the Cavs are an old-school Big Ten football team that controls the pace picking up four or five yards a run while winning the turnover battle and playing great defense. Garland quarterbacks this unit, making sure they stay on schedule and play within themselves while making big plays of his own when needed.
Isaac Okoro can hit a game-winning three
Okoro’s game winning three in Brooklyn was just one shot. But sometimes a shot is more than just a shot.
Okoro was played off the floor in last season’s play-in game in Brooklyn. The Nets ignored him and he didn’t have the confidence to hit corner threes resulting in his minutes being cut short that game and the next against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Cavs are a better team when Okoro is able to stay on the floor due to his high level defense and ability to finish at the rim in transition. Being able to effectively attack defenses in the half court that dare him to do so is how he’s going to stay in the rotation.
Opponents will likely always live with Okoro beating them when the alternative is dealing with Garland, Mitchell, Mobley or Jarrett Allen. That’s just how it’s going to be. Making them pay like he did the Nets in Brooklyn is something he’s going to need to be able to do more often than not.
He’s only going to be able to do so if he has the confidence in himself and his shot. If that shot in Brooklyn is any indicator of things, Okoro could have the belief in himself he needs.
Cedi Osman has remained committed through it all
The Cavs are officially back in the playoffs. The only Cavalier who’s been through the last run to the Finals, four head coaches in two seasons, three years of tanking and the rise back to contention is Cedi Osman.
Cleveland compiled a disastrous 60-159 from the 2018-19 through 2020-21 seasons. Osman played in 200 of those 219 games while logging 5,865 minutes. Both are good for second most in that stretch behind only Collin Sexton.
Osman’s willingness to stay bought in throughout his six years in Cleveland is admirable. That commitment and acceptance of his ever-changing role, even when he’s had reason to gripe, is one of the reasons why he’s the only holdover from before the rebuilding years and is still earning minutes today.
Osman has, understandably, fallen out of the rotation at times throughout the last few seasons. The hot and cold nature of his game resulted in him not getting off the bench in February and having his minutes cut shot at times in the beginning of this month. Osman’s play has leveled out over the few weeks as he’s been able to supply the supplemental shooting the Cavs desperately need — hitting 42.9% of his outside shots in March — while providing energy and versatility. As a result, his role as the eighth or ninth man seems stable for the time being.
J.B. Bickerstaff will undoubtedly keep his rotations tight in the playoffs. That’s going to leave Osman out of certain games or possibly entire series depending on the matchup. But, if there’s one person Bickerstaff can count on to always be ready when needed, it’s Osman. He’s the one who’s been through the worst of times and stayed bought in. Having his minutes or role fluctuate isn’t going to change that.