The Cleveland Cavaliers sleepwalked their way through most of this one before putting the Indiana Pacers away in the fourth. They escaped with a 115-105 win thanks to another 40-point outing from Donovan Mitchell.
The effort level wasn’t there for three quarters
This was the first time this season the Cavs came into a game without much to play for. Their loss against the Atlanta Hawks earlier this week put getting the third seed out of reach. Friday’s contest with the New York Knicks didn’t mean a lot in the standings, but was an opportunity for both teams to make a statement.
Sunday’s game, didn’t have the same importance. The Cavs came into this one needing some combination of two wins or two losses from the Knicks in the final four games to secure homecourt in the first round. Given how unlikely it is for that to flip even if the Cavs lost tonight, the effort level was lacking.
This showed up most on the defensive end. Indiana takes the sixth highest percentage of threes a game and has the ability to get hot from distance. They did so in the first three quarters as Cleveland was more than a step slow on their rotations out to shooters leaving their opponent plenty of space to comfortably get their shots off. As a result, Indiana knocked down 9 of their 19 outside attempts through the first three quarters.
That changed down the stretch when the Cavs started competing. They held Indiana to just 0-5 shooting from three, 6-17 (35.3%) from the field and forced 7 turnovers in the fourth.
The Cavs escaped with their 49th win of the season thanks to a strong effort in the final 12 minutes. Getting the win is ultimately all that matters. But, there wasn’t a whole lot of positives to take away from the first three quarters where the effort was lacking and their opponent was without their best player in a possible attempt to get more ping pong balls in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.
Dean Wade was reinserted into the starting lineup
J.B. Bickerstaff is desperate to find guys to fill out his rotations in the postseason. Dean Wade seemed like someone who would certainly have a role until the rough stretch he’s been on since the All-Star break. Coming into tonight’s game, Wade totaled just 13 points on 20.8% shooting in 117 minutes since the break.
Wade got the start in place of the still injured Isaac Okoro, who’s status for the playoffs is more uncertain that you’d like it to be, in an effort to help the Cavs’ rebounding while also giving him a chance to make a case for being in the playoff rotation.
Wade was adequate in his role, but certainly didn’t make the most of the opportunity. He was a serviceable defender and helped keep the Pacers off the glass allowing Allen to play just 27 minutes in his return. That said, he seemed to disappear at times on the offensive end as he provided 5 points on 2-3 shooting with an assist.
Evan Mobley stayed aggressive offensively through an inefficient start
Mobley’s growth on the offensive end has been remarkable the last few months. He’s really begun to put it together on that end combined while emerging as one of the top defenders in the league.
Sunday’s game was uncharacteristic for him. He, along with the rest of his teammates besides Mitchell, had a difficult time getting anything going. Mobley appeared uncomfortable offensively and was forcing it at times as he put up 8 points on 4-14 shooting through three quarters.
While the Cavs don’t necessarily want an inefficient night from Mobley, it’s good to see him remain aggressive even when his shot isn’t falling. That perseverance was rewarded in the fourth with 6 points on 3-3 shooting. Earlier in the season we might’ve seen Mobley stop trying to attack if he had a similar start.
#Cavs J.B. Bickerstaff on Evan Mobley in fourth quarters: "He is the ultimate winner and it's that simple. He understands in fourth quarters when it's winning time and what it takes to win basketball games in those moments."— Kelsey Russo (@kelseyyrusso) April 3, 2023
It’s also worth noting that Mobley was impressive in all other areas of the game. He grabbed 16 rebounds, 5 of which came on the offensive end, while dishing out 4 assists and swatting away 4 shots.
Donovan Mitchell keeps scoring 40or more points
Mitchell recorded his third straight 40-point game and his 12th of the season. He finished with 40 points on 14-25 shooting with 6 boards, 3 steals, an assist and 5 turnovers.
The Cavs needed Mitchell to break them out of their early malaise. This was especially true in the third quarter where Mitchell provided 17 of the team’s 27 points to keep the game close to even heading into the final frame.
On a night the Cavs seemed to be going through the motions for a majority of the game, Mitchell was one of the few who wasn’t. His performance allowed the Cavs to comfortably steal a win they otherwise didn’t deserve.
Up next: The Cavs will have a chance to clinch homecourt in the first round on Tuesday as they travel south to take on the Orlando Magic. Tipoff is 7 p.m.