This was a weird game
The Cavs were down to just nine available bodies. Eight of which saw playing time. They needed a good night from their three best players and they got that with Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley all having great games. Unfortunately, they were the only Cavaliers in double figures as the other five guys contributed just 27 points combined.
Cleveland also wasn’t awful on the defensive end despite what the final score would make you believe. They limited the Hawks’ looks at the rim while holding them to an admirable 14-26 (53.8%) shooting in the restricted area. Cleveland also did a great job of forcing the Hawks into taking tough in-between shots as 36 of their 89 shots came in the midrange. The issue was they converted 44.4% of their three-pointers and shot 11 more free throws than the Cavs.
Overall, this game just lacked any sort of flow. The Hawks did their damage by getting to the charity stripe. Meanwhile, the Cavs couldn’t establish any kind of offensive rhythm which forced their three-best players to create on their own.
Evan Mobley stays hot offensively
Mobley once again showed what a force he could be on the offensive end. This was especially true in the beginning of the game when the Cavs’ offense seemed lifeless. His 14 first-half points on 7-10 shooting kept the Cavs within arm’s length.
The second-year big continued his onslaught in the restricted area as he converted 8 of his 9 attempts at the rim. Most of which were dunks. Mobley also sprinkled in some playmaking ability as he finished with a team-high 6 assists including this great pass to Cedi Osman while falling out of bounds.
Mobley once again shined defensively
His defense was also sensational as he finished with a game-high 4 blocks. One of which was this incredible block on De’Andre Hunter right when the Cavs were beginning to claw their way back into the game.
Great rim protectors influence shots even when they don’t attempt to block it. The best example of this was Dejounte Murray short arming an eight-foot floater that barely grazed the front of the rim because he saw Mobley stepping up.
Mobley is beginning to put it all together on the offensive end. But, that shouldn’t overshadow just how good he is defensively. He’s continuing to play at an All-Defensive Team level night in and night out.
Lack of depth did the Cavs in
The lack of depth, especially in the front court, allowed the Hawks to regain momentum anytime the Cavs got something going.
Mamadi Diakite was the only big to see minutes off the bench. J.B. Bickerstaff kept him on a tight leash forcing Mobley to play over 40 minutes. Even so, the Cavs struggled in those stretches as they lost the minutes Mobley didn’t play by 14 points. The Cavs lost Diakite’s 12 and a half minutes by 17.
It didn’t help that the Cavs other two reserves didn’t have their best stuff. Ricky Rubio looked fine alongside both Mitchell and Garland, but struggled in lineups without either. Cedi Osman couldn’t find the range from deep and wasn’t able to provide much else.
The starters played well enough to win. All five finished the game with a positive plus/minus while all five of Atlanta’s starters finished with a negative plus/minus. The bench units were what fell flat and ended up costing Cleveland.
Donovan Mitchell is relentless
Mitchell has been vocal about how the three seed was still in play. This was nearly a must-win game for the Cavs if they wanted to keep those dreams alive. Mitchell played like it was.
The best thing you can say about Mitchell is that he’s a relentless competitor who will do anything in his power to will his team to victory. We saw that side to him once again as he put the team on his back in the second half as he contributed 32 points in the final two frames alone.
Donovan Mitchell showed out tonight— NBA (@NBA) March 29, 2023
Cavs fell to Atlanta in a close one pic.twitter.com/4WgPtwY7xe
Mitchell’s 44 points weren’t enough to get the win, but they were enough to tie LeBron James for the most 40-point games by a Cavalier in a season. This was the tenth time Mitchell has eclipsed the 40-point plateau. The Cavs are now 6-4 in games he does so.
Mitchell has played his best when the Cavs have needed him most. While they didn’t get the win here, this trend bodes well for a team that will need him to be superhuman at times in the postseason.
Up next: The Cavs will be back in action Friday night as they host the New York Knicks in a potential first-round preview. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.