Containing the Knicks on the glass
The Knicks have one of the most interesting offensive profiles. They have compiled the second best offense in the league with a 118.7 offensive rating, but have the 20th ranked effective field goal percentage. They’re able to get away with this because of their offensive rebounding and penchant for getting to the line.
New York’s habit of creating extra possessions come back to bite Cleveland in three of their four meetings this season. In their three losses to New York, the Knicks were able to compile 17, 19 and 14 second-chance points. That simply can’t happen again for the Cavs to be successful.
The Cavs have been a good rebounding team with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the floor together. Lineups with both have grabbed 74.9% of available defensive rebounds which is in the 81st percentile. Lineups without both have struggled. Not factoring in lineups with Kevin Love, units with just Allen have grabbed only 72.8% of available defensive rebounds (44th percentile) while groups with just Mobley have secured 69.3% of opponent misses (8th percentile).
The Cavs will likely play most of this series with both on the floor. That said, there will likely be 15 to 20 minutes a game where only one of Allen and Mobley are on the floor. The Cavs desperately need to find ways to contain the Knicks on the offensive glass in those minutes.
Darius Garland and Evan Mobley’s first playoff basketball
Garland and Mobley have postseason experience with the play in tournament last year, but the playoffs are a different animal. Playoff basketball is about constantly making and reacting to adjustments. We haven’t seen how either Garland or Mobley will handle this kind of setting.
This will be an opportunity for Garland and Mobley to show that they are 16-game players. There will be growing pains along the way. Especially if the Cavs are able to advance to the second round. But every great player needs to go through these in order to become the best version of themselves.
Donovan Mitchell vs. Jalen Brunson
The first round series between the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks last season set both star players onto different paths. Mitchell was completely outplayed by Brunson as the Mavs, mostly without the services of Luka Dončić, put a nail in the coffin of that Jazz core.
For Brunson, that series showed that he could be the best primary ball handler in a playoff series. He finished the first round averaging 27.8 points with a true shooting percentage of 58.3.
Mitchell was on the opposite end of the spectrum. His perimeter defense allowed Brunson to go off like he did. Mitchell wasn’t able to make up for it on the other end.
This series directly resulted in the Knicks outbidding the Mavs for Brunson’s services and the Jazz deciding to rebuild. A year later, these two meet again in very different situations.
Playoff failures can lead to drastic changes. Mitchell’s shortcomings last playoffs was in part to not being in the condition he felt was necessary. This resulted in an overhaul of his offseason workout regime as noted by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst in his profile of Mitchell after his historic 71-point outing.
[For] eight weeks this summer, there was Donovan Mitchell. Running endless sprints. Mitchell, his trainer David Alexander and a jug of water. Six sprints of 50 meters. Then five of 100 meters. Three at 200 meters. And then, at the end, two lung-busting 400s, the most grueling of them all on a surface that was usually around 100 degrees.
Mitchell took his game to new heights this season, arguably compiling the best non-LeBron James season in franchise history. Mitchell’s ability to will his team to victory in the fourth quarter numerous times this season is the reason why that’s the case. That was on full display in his last four games as he finished with 40 or more points in each of those contests.
But those grueling summer workouts weren’t for capturing regular season wins. It was about performing on the biggest stage. Mitchell will get a chance to show that he can still do that on Saturday evening. It’s only fitting he gets that opportunity against the player most responsible for his failure last season.