It took some work. A lot of work. But the Cleveland Cavaliers got it done, winning 118-114 in overtime against the Boston Celtics on Monday night in Cleveland. Donovan Mitchell led the Cavs with 40 points and 11 rebounds while Evan Mobley added 25 points and 16 rebounds.
A few things that really worked when Cleveland came back in the fourth:
- Spacing Darius Garland to the corner was a smart choice. It gave them needed off-ball options and he was fantastic in pump faking and getting the flyby to get clean looks. He was 2-4 on threes in the fourth.
- Lamar Stevens gave the Cavs great minutes. The Celtics by design ignore the Cavs’ wings, so Stevens correctly crashed into the lane for offensive rebounds and was available as a cutter. He also played really hard every minute he was on the floor. He gave the Cavs way more than any other bench piece in the 11-plus minutes he was in the fourth.
- Donovan Mitchell is a monster. Rejects the screen, goes at Jaylen Brown, whips back the other way so Brown can’t contest and scores. He is a supreme athlete paired with elite footwork and body control.
- Grant Williams missing two free throws was a gift from the basketball gods.
They just brought more in overtime. They didn’t crater when Jaylen Brown got three free throws early. They just kept coming and coming and coming to get to the win.
Stevens was great again here too. He crashed the offensive glass, hit a corner three, had a great drive and finish from the elbow. He showed up big time.
Also Donovan Mitchell did this.
Lacking effort in spots
The bottom line about the Cavs’ first half against the Celtics: The effort and intensity wasn’t good enough.
That’s a problem on two fronts. For one, the Celtics played into double overtime last night while the Cavs were off. Boston then had to fly to Cleveland and was missing Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III. The Cavs had everyone available. And, somehow, the Celtics looked like the fresher, hungrier team.
Miscues like this happen when a team isn’t focused:
Second, this is the kind of performance that doesn’t match where the Cavs should be in the season. There’s very little regular season left. Teams like the New York Knicks (now just a game and a half behind the Cavs in the standings) and the Philadelphia 76ers (now two and a half games ahead for the three seed) are playing effortful, competitive basketball night in and night out right now. That does not bode well.
This also doesn’t apply to every player. Most notably, Mitchell competed every minute he was on the floor and was Cleveland’s best player. Effort is never in doubt with him. Evan Mobley, despite some early trouble, played hard too. But two guys isn’t enough. And it’s not the kind of team effort that’s going to put you in a good spot when the games really matter. It’s only going to get harder to comeback late and make games competitive or pull out a win.
Evan Mobley, budding superstar
Mobley stood out in a big way against Boston. There was no question about his motor, feeling of him being checked out mentally or being caught up in some questionable calls that went against Cleveland. On both ends, Mobley was locked in and competing.
He did a little bit of everything too. Want a sick left handed dunk set up by a tight dribble? Mobley has you covered.
How about an and-one finishing through contact? Or a three-pointer he took with confidence? Check and check.
Mobley hit some tough shots across the lane too. Defensively, he was his great self too. He more than held his own on switches against Jaylen Brown (although Brown did get him once in the fourth with a sick pump fake) while defending the rim and playing into passing lanes. Final line: 25 points on 10-14 shooting with 17 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Mobley’s a superstar. A leap for him is happening. It would just hit different if the Cavs were taking full advantage.
Jarrett Allen taken out of the flow
Credit to the Celtics’ defense: They’ve done an excellent job of limiting Jarrett Allen in the last two games between these teams.
When Cleveland is on offense, Allen is often sitting in the dunker spot, waiting for a pass or an opportunity to cut. To trap him in, Boston put two defenders in help — usually a big and a guard, but sometimes two smaller players — between Allen and the ball. With how stout their defenders are, they are effectively walling off Allen from darting in for dunks or putback opportunities.
Even when Allen got the ball at the free-throw line or after a screen, the Celtics kept two bodies between him and the rim. And Boston often put Brown on Allen so that if the Cavs ran a pick-and-roll with Allen, they couldn’t use it to hunt for a switch.
Allen, averaging 9.4 shots per game on the year, finished with 4 points on 5 attempts. He did not play in overtime. The way Boston defended Allen cut off one of Cleveland’s most efficient offensive options.
Defensively, the Celtics have been great at interior passing and making Allen play with his head on a constant swivel. By doing that, they deny him his best form of rim protection: meeting guys head on and trying to block their shots. Get him spinning (as with most centers) and it’s open season.
Up next: The Cavs begin a four-game road trip on Wednesday against the Miami Heat. (This is the annual MAC Tournament road trip.) Tipoff is at 7 p.m.