It was probably harder than it should’ve been, but the Cleveland Cavaliers found a way to win on Monday night against the visiting LA Clippers. The Clippers were still without Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard is yet to play this season, and LA was also without the likes of Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. because of rest, in fairness.
The Cavaliers did also have a nine-point lead with 6:14 left in the contest, so the game probably shouldn’t have gone to overtime, from their perspective. The Clippers deserve credit for eventually tying the game up, though, and both teams would make some plays before the game would go to overtime notted up at 106 apiece.
The Cavs, fortunately, and led by Darius Garland, would go on to outscore the Clippers 14-5 in Cleveland’s first overtime game of the season. That was a relief, considering the rest of this current home stand to come for the Cavaliers, and with how tight the Eastern Conference is, involving the postseason picture.
The Cavs did find a way, regardless, and Evan Mobley‘s career/season-best 30 points was huge, as was Isaac Okoro’s rim pressure (a career-high 13 free throws) and defense. I never discount Garland’s play, from there, and Lauri Markkanen made a difference then after missing a game because of ankle soreness, as he had 17 points and nine rebounds.
All of that said, it was good to see Caris LeVert back in for the Cavaliers on Monday night, as he missed the past nine games for Cleveland (all of post-All-Star break play) due to a foot sprain. In this one, LeVert had 11 points on five-of-10 shooting, to go with three assists. He played pretty well, all things considered, and hopefully he can build on this.
LeVert had a solid outing against the Clips, and the Cavs will need more of this type of play to come.
Upon his arrival via trade from the Indiana Pacers near the trade deadline, one had to imagine it’d take some time for LeVert to get comfortable with the Cavaliers. Early on, we did see some of his strengths on display as a shot creator and driver before the All-Star break, and whether or not he does start or come off the bench more, with that in mind, I’d expect him to be a regular factor in closing lineups.
Even still, early on with the Cavs, it’s been a mixed bag for LeVert, and then again, he was sidelined for those nine post-All-Star games before Monday with the foot issue. That was admittedly worrisome, as LeVert has had foot issues in the past with the Brooklyn Nets and back near the end of his college career with Michigan. He’s missed time due to a number of injuries throughout his NBA career, and the Cavaliers assuredly were and are aware of that.
As we alluded to, though, LeVert when healthy, as he is seemingly now, can be a difference-maker for this team, whether he starts or comes off the bench more. We saw that in his play against the Clips on Monday night.
LeVert gave the team a lift on Monday night versus the Clips, both as an on-ball presence, and he can be a capable secondary playmaker, and primary initiator in some stretches sans Garland.
This sort of play from LeVert on the wing, particularly with Collin Sexton out for most of this season, is something the Cavaliers have been missing of late with Caris sidelined. It was a good sign for him to hit this type of turnaround from creation off-the-bounce, too.
As the Cavs pointed demonstrated in these set of sequences highlighting LeVert and Lauri Markkanen’s contributions, in LeVert’s case, while 11 points were not a boatload from him, he was very effective in his 25 minutes, and his passing shouldn’t be glossed over, either.
Markkanen’s essentially game-sealing triple in overtime came off of a LeVert drive after a ball-swing, and I thought that extra pass was very encouraging.
Going forward, provided he stays healthy, these kinds of outings from LeVert would really make a big difference for the Cavaliers as they try to land their first postseason berth since 2018, and what would be their first without LeBron James since 1998.
LeVert does need to find his rhythm and fit game-to-game, of course, and with Cleveland, he’s had 12.8 points per outing on a 44.9 effective field goal shooting clip. There needs to be an uptick in that realm, undoubtedly, and LeVert is not generally going to be that efficient from three, as evidenced by a career 33.3 percent clip from there.
But if he can get comfortable with the Cavs here, it’d pay dividends, especially as the club needs his scoring and playmaking leading into making a postseason run. That’d only help shooters such as Markkanen, Garland to some degree and Kevin Love, in the process.
To drive it home, this last Clips game was a nice start to hopefully LeVert hitting the ground running as he gets further acclimated with Cleveland.