In a season where Donovan Mitchell has been to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back time and time again, it appears when Mitchell needs to be carried the team can’t repay the favor.
When the Cavs got Mitchell, the expectation was that Mitchell would be the release valve the Cavaliers’ offense desperately needed. For the regular season, the expectation became reality as Mitchell took a step forward and provided an MVP finalist-level season. The expectation for the postseason was unchanged. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect Mitchell, a player who in the past has excelled in scoring in the postseason, to do more of the same.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, as they stare down a 3-1 series deficit to the New York Knicks, it appears that Mitchell is in a cold spell. And it looks like the team as currently constructed is not capable of carrying such slumps.
Game 1 of the series in Cleveland displayed much of what Mitchell had to do time and time again for the Cavaliers. Mitchell scored 38 points, however on 30 shots (the highest number of shots taken in the postseason), but was still able to generate good looks and convert on them. Since then, Mitchell has seemed to struggle to convert on the looks he has created.
Since game one, Mitchell has shot 41% (20-48) from the field, coinciding with a 23% (4-17) three-point percentage as well. Mitchell has felt like during stretches he is actively trying to shoot his way out of the slump. Which for a team that is struggling as mightily as the Cavaliers are in this series is more of a disservice than much of anything else.
For the majority of the season, Mitchell has been attacking the cup to collapse opposing defenses. This would normally force teams to operate in a more drop coverage style of defense when matching up with Mitchell. With the level of interior defense, the Knicks have shown through four games, especially in part due to the efforts of Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, it has forced Mitchell to alter his shot profile and take him out of the normal flow we have grown accustomed to.
Mitchell shot profile has gone from an ample amount of attacking the cup and three-point attempts to a healthy diet of midrange jumpers to try and split all the doubles the Knicks have thrown his way. In Game 4 we saw Mitchell take only four threes. He missed all four attempts. Two of the four three-point attempts were Mitchell’s carry the ball over halfcourt and pull before the remaining Cavaliers even crossed the baseline. A shot that is fine when you are feeling it, but when you are instead trying to find your shot is simply backbreaking.
Just as the Cavaliers did to Brunson in Game 2, the Knicks are willing and often deciding to meet Mitchell with a double team to try and force the ball out of his hands. And unlike the Mitchell poise we saw throughout the regular season, Mitchell has looked frazzled and shown a lack of composure. Mitchell is currently posting a 22% turnover rate in his two games at Madison Square Garden thus far. In Game 4, Mitchell had more turnovers (6) than field goals made 5). That is not a recipe for the Cavaliers to win on the road.
Donovan Mitchell has struggled getting to the rim in this series in part because of elite POA D but also because of Mitch and Hartenstein rim protection. Knicks centers have been spectacular and have out played the Cavs bigs pic.twitter.com/17kJX9DkbN— Ariel (@APachecoNBA) April 24, 2023
ot only is Mitchell struggling to find some form of flow offensively, but the team as a whole seems to find their footing in the series for stretches. The Cavaliers are being outplayed but a Knicks team that looks to have a greater sense of urgency and more effort on a night-to-night basis outside of Game 2. The Cavaliers have been giving up second-chance opportunities on a night-to-night basis since the series first tipped off. When the shots are not falling the way they have been for the Cavaliers it is hard to come back from that type of play.
The Cavaliers’ defense, for the most part, is doing their best in MSG as game three was a rock fight and they slowed down the Knicks in Game 4 to open the door from a double-digit deficit. However, despite the Cavaliers holding the Knicks to 102 points per game over the weekend, only being able to score 99 points a game in that span is really a rough look that is very indicative of where this team stands through four games.
Fans are quick to blame roster construction as to why this series has played out in the manner it has, however, when the team is being outplayed both on the front court and their backcourt. It is not an issue of who is not on the roster. Rather, it is more of an issue that those on the floor starting with Mitchell just are not showing up under the bright lights. While many are quick to point out that this series is a good reason as to why the Cavaliers shouldn’t have cashed in their assets to acquire Mitchell, those same people need to remember that really no one on this roster has played even a good series.
Garland, Mobley, and Allen have all had real low points against the Knicks. In order for the Cavaliers to have had a chance in this series, they needed to have Mitchell be the best player, but they also needed the core four to be four of the best six or seven players in the series. That just hasn’t happened.