Mobley, Cavs have to be sharper as finishers in Game 2, onward vs. NYK

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

On Saturday night, it was the first time the Cleveland Cavaliers were back in the playoffs since 2018, and it looked like it. In Cleveland’s Game 1 of their first round series against the New York Knicks, in the Eastern Conference’s No. 4-No. 5 matchup, New York controlled virtually the whole game.

The Knicks held a 50-45 lead at halftime, despite their budding star in Jalen Brunson only playing nine minutes in the first half. For most of the game, the Knicks led, too, with their largest lead by 12, whereas for the Cavaliers, theirs was only two, and it was brief.

It was far from the most aesthetically pleasing game, but the Knicks deserve their flowers for their performance on Saturday. They outplayed the Cavs on the road to begin the series, and Brunson was magnificent in the second half. He played 21 of 24 minutes in the second half, and finished with 27 points, and hit so many big shots in the lane, and he gave New York heady player as a ball-mover as well, which led to hockey assists in a few crucial spots.

In the contest, Cleveland did narrowly shoot better than New York, they just could not close out defensive possessions nearly enough, at times when Brunson was off. New York, who was one of the league’s elite offensive rebounding teams this season, had 17 offensive boards, and they outrebounded Cleveland 51-38 in the game. New York had 23 second chance points in the process.

The Knicks got great play from their bench guys in do-everything wing Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein in his bench minutes at the 5, and Julius Randle looked healthy. He had a strong start, and though he cooled off, finishing seven-of-20, him being back for the Knicks was big for their efforts, and his passing was meaningful. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, and didn’t seem limited, involving his ankle injury he was working his way back from.

Looking back, the Knicks were definitely deserving of that 101-97 Game 1 victory, and the Cavaliers absolutely need to tighten the screws to rebound in Game 2 again at home and looking onward in the series.

One area where Evan Mobley and Cleveland definitely needs to be more on-point, in that realm, jumped out to me as it pertains to the offensive end, which we’ll stress here.

Mobley and the Cavs need to be sharper as finishers in Game 2 and moving forward against the Knicks.

The Cavaliers began the game ice cold from deep, but generally, it was frustrating how the Wine and Gold aside from Donovan Mitchell, who had 38 points, were finishing plays in the paint. Credit goes to Robinson and Hartenstein for some of the contests with high hands, it just was something that when looking back at the tape, the Cavs could correct to some degree by playing with more assertiveness with their finishes.

Cleveland hit 50.0 percent of their two-point attempts on Saturday, which was a decrease from their average there on the season, at 56.0 percent. Mobley himself did not have the playoff debut he would’ve been hoping for, offensively, though, as he shot just four-of-13 from the field (30.8 percent), and that was on all two-point shots.

For Mobley, some of it could’ve feasibly been jitters, playing in his first playoff game, and at home, that can be tougher from a nerves standpoint, objectively. A few of his misses early on were seemingly short-armed.

A couple of other instances, Mobley went to fadeaways, and while he’s more than capable of hitting those if he’s in-rhythm, those times on Saturday he appeared to be simply settling. That’s not something he’d been doing, when shooting fadeaways that is, in post-All-Star break play. They’d come more as a counter to him getting to drives or in-rhythm hooks.

Given Mobley’s IQ and skill level, and his passing abilities to go with his smart offensive play, one should expect him to be playing through contact more near the basket in the rest of the series against the Knicks. And as a bit of an adjustment, him using the glass more can help, too.

These things don’t amount to a significant level of concern for Mobley, whose basketball intelligence is rare for a 21-year-old and second-year player. He should be fine, and his defensive play for much of Saturday’s game was still impactful, as it always is.

Other Cavs, such as Darius Garland, and Isaac Okoro in his minutes, provided he’s healthy, could benefit from subtle fakes near the basket, from there, but not be deterred, in the same light. The same goes potentially for Caris LeVert, who was one-of-seven from the field in Game 1.

Garland seemed tentative in the second half, and looked to have passed up some shots in the lane which could’ve given Cleveland a lift. It should be stressed for him to be aggressive and put the onus on officials in those situations, particularly against New York bigs that are not strangers to fouls.

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Saturday’s game was anything but a stellar performance for Cleveland. It was also one game, and if the Cavaliers can clean up some details, they should be fine. They just have to play more purposeful with the ball as a group throughout the course of 48 minutes.