How historic was Evan Mobley’s performance for short-handed Cavs?

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

On March 15th, 2018, LeBron James did what he had done many nights: he put the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back. He not only scored again and again, but he crashed the glass and muscled rebounds away from larger players. He was active on the defensive end, rotating toward attacking players and blocking three shots.

His final stat line? 35 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. It was the only time in his Cavaliers career that The King put up at least 33 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Turn the clock back much further, to November of 2002. LeBron was still playing high school basketball, and the Cavaliers were in the midst of one of the worst seasons in franchise history en route to winning the first pick and the rights to draft James. One bright spot came in a home game against the Dallas Mavericks, when center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was unstoppable. He put up 34 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a close loss.

Campy Russell once put up 33-14-4 in a win vs the San Antonio Spurs back in 1979. And in an overtime game against the Detroit Pistons just prior to the NBA shutdown in 2020, the Cavaliers clawed out an overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons thanks to the efforts of Tristan Thompson, who scored a career-high 35 points to go with 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Evan Mobley put up an all-time Cleveland performance

It was fitting, then, that Thompson was on hand on Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers to see magic happen again. Evan Mobley, suddenly standing alone with his three All-Star teammates sidelined with injuries, put up the best stat line of his young career: 33 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Mobley was largely unstoppable around the rim, whether crashing the glass for putbacks or destroying Indiana’s bigs off-the-dribble and with post moves. His skill inside has clearly grown in leaps and bounds from last season, and even with so many injuries the Cavs’ offseason additions allowed them to keep the floor spaced around Mobley to give him work to dominate.

Even more surprising than the points, perhaps, were the rebounds. After struggling to consistently clear the glass last season, Mobley has been an unstoppable force playing center to start the season. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night he had 15 rebounds, then against the Pacers, he pulled down 14. It’s the first time in his career he’s ever put together back-to-back rebounding games like that.

The game did not go the Cavaliers’ way, but it’s hard to pin that on Mobley. The Cavs were down three of their four best players plus their backup point guard (both backups if you count Ricky Rubio’s absence). The reason they were even in the game in the fourth quarter was largely due to Caris LeVert’s wild shot-making and Mobley’s dominance. Evan finished -15 on the night, but nearly all of that number was accrued when sharing the court with rookie Emoni Bates, who was -15 in a single seven-minute stint.

Stepping back, Mobley became just the fifth Cavaliers player to put up such a stat line. The most encouraging part of that aforementioned list is Mobley’s age; the other four players were established veterans, all 27 years or older (LeBron was 33). Mobley is just 22 years old, with a huge expanse before him.

Mobley is the best big man prospect that the Cavaliers have had on their team since Brad Daugherty, and he has a clear path ahead of him to be the best in franchise history. Having Thompson around as a mentor can only help him on that path. And the more he proves he can shoulder the load inside, the more options open up for the Cavs as they look to build a true contender.

The Cavs won’t always be playing short-handed, and they won’t always be playing a team like Indiana; other teams will be larger, or stronger, or nastier inside. What Evan Mobley is proving, however, is that he is ready to be as big and strong and nasty as he needs to be.

Next. 7 players the Cleveland Cavaliers held onto for way too long. dark

Mobley has arrived. It’s time to see just how far he’s ready to go.