It took six months, but the Cleveland Cavaliers finally got their long-awaited revenge against the New York Knicks with a 95-89 victory on Wednesday night. This came after the Cavs lost to the Knicks at home the night before 109-91. However, that loss is taken with the world’s biggest grain of salt as the Cavs’ rotation was thinner than a piece of paper. They were still short-handed in their second game with the Knicks, as Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Ty Jerome were out. The Knicks were also missing RJ Barrett for the second game, so both teams were not healthy for the duration of the two game mini-series.
While we hope that both teams will be healthy for their last matchup of the season on March 3, there was a lot to take away from the Cavs-Knicks two-game mini series. Here are my top two.
Darius Garland has been battling a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered in preseason during the early portion of this season. Garland is questionable for tonight’s In-Season Tournament game against the Indiana Pacers, so he is trending in the right direction. The two-game mini-series made one thing clear: he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Cavaliers offense.
Yes, Donovan Mitchell is the scoring engine that is a walking efficient 30 piece, and while he is a solid playmaker, Garland is much better than him in that regard. Garland has averaged seven or more assists the past two seasons, and his playmaking prowess was a huge reason why the Cavs finished with a top eight offense last season. Cleveland really missed him against the Knicks, as they could not pass the 100-point mark in both games.
When Garland is in the game, the offense runs a lot smoother, as he is so good at putting guys in the right spot to score, and get easy baskets. Evan Mobley is a prime example, as he was Garland’s most assisted teammate last season. When DG is not out there, the offense becomes a lot more stagnated, as there is a lot more isolation ball. The Cavs offense then becomes “let’s watch Donovan Mitchell or Caris LeVert go one on one and hope he makes the basket.”
Don’t get me wrong, Mitchell is an absolutely fantastic scorer, but he sometimes gets too focused on getting his instead of getting his teammates involved, especially when Garland is out. Mitchell only had seven combined assists in both games against the Knicks, and was not getting the quality shots he is used to seeing with Garland on the court. Mitchell is at his best when he is a pure assassin who gets quality shots, and doesn’t have to force a lot.
The Cavaliers are at their best with #10 on the court, and the mini-series proved that.
In order for this Cavs team to reach their full potential, Evan Mobley has to take the third year leap. He has shown flashes, as he had a monstrous performance against the Pacers a near-week ago, finishing with 33 points and 14 rebounds. He has also put together dud-worthy performances, which included a six-point game against the Knicks on three-of-nine shooting. While Mobley was off offensively in the first game, I liked what I saw from a physicality standpoint.
With Allen out, Mobley had to slide over to the center spot, and he had to battle with Mitchell Robinson all night. Mobley was fearless in the paint, and showed a lot of aggression there on both ends. Mobley outrebounded Robinson 12 to seven, and he even outrebounded him on the offensive glass four to three. Mobley also chipped in two blocks. The time in the weight room really paid off.
Additionally, while his shot wasn’t falling, Mobley still made an impact with five assists. He seems to be a lot more comfortable with the ball in the elbow area, and making decisions based on what the defense is giving him. Mobley also had five assists in the second game as well, to go along with 14 points and eight rebounds. His improved playmaking and physicality are very encouraging things, as this is key to the Cavaliers reaching their ceiling. The points will come, but it was great to see Mobley improving on two of his weaknesses.
The Cavs coming out of this tough two-game series with a 1-1 split is nothing short of a victory. Given that they do not have nearly their full roster, it was impressive that they were able to do this.
It is hard to judge this team early on in the season due to the lack of health, but hopefully the full roster is back soon, so the Cavaliers can continue their quest for success this season.