Three takeaways from the Cavs’ first In-Season Tournament loss

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images /

For the first time since the beginning of training camp in September, the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to trout out their ideal starting five: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. Allen had been out since October 7th due to a bone bruise in his ankle, and Garland had been out since opening night with a nagging hamstring.

Unfortunately, it was not enough in the end, as the Cavs fell to the Indiana Pacers in the first game of the NBA In-Season Tournament 121-116. It was an up-and-down game for the Cavs that included giving up 70 points in the first half, outscoring the Pacers 34-18 in the third quarter, and going scoreless on their last five offensive possessions. It was not a great way to start the In-Season tournament. Here are three takeaways from the Cavs’ second loss to the Pacers.

1. Evan Mobley is finding a rhythm

Evan Mobley may not be putting up gaudy scoring numbers, but early on this season his physicality and rebounding have shown great improvement. Ever since a dud-worthy 10 points and six rebounds on opening night against the Brooklyn Nets, Mobley has averaged a strong 16 points and 11 rebounds in his last five games.

This includes a 33-point, 14-rebound performance against the Pacers. Yes, sometimes Mobley has left a lot to be desired offensively, and his aggressiveness is still very spotty, but he has looked improved from a physical standpoint. He is no longer getting pushed or manhandled on box outs and is doing a better job of using his length to secure boards.

Mobley’s playmaking has also improved, as he now has three games in a row with five assists. He also looks a lot more comfortable with the ball in the open court, as he had a beautiful coast-to-coast basket in the second half. The Cavs must continue to give Mobley consistent touches throughout the game so that he can stay in rhythm. They will become much more dangerous offensively as a result.

2. The Cavs’ late-game offense needs to be better

After Donovan Mitchell hit a pull-up jumper to put the Cavs within 1 against the Pacers with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter, this is how the next five Cavs offensive possessions transpired:

  • Evan Mobley turnover
  • Darius Garland turnover
  • Donovan Mitchell missed jumper
  • Evan Mobley’s shot blocked
  • Caris LeVert missed three-pointer

The turnovers hurt the most, as Mobley threw the ball away to Garland on a fast break, and then Garland threw a limp cross-court pass. The LeVert three was a great look, as he was wide open off the screen, but he just could not hit it. The Cavs cannot have poor execution like this if they want to get where they need to be this season. In games against top contenders like the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and others, they cannot execute poorly down the stretch.

In their two wins, the Cavs were able to do a great job of executing late on offense, to lead them to the W. Now, they need to do it on a more consistent basis. Speaking of consistency, this leads me to my last takeaway.

3. Darius Garland needs to be more assertive

This was Garland’s first game back after missing four games due to injury, and he did not find a rhythm. However, injury or not, the same issue exists with him: lack of assertiveness alongside Mitchell. It’s understood that Mitchell is the Batman (or Spider-Man), and Garland is the Robin, but that does not mean Garland shouldn’t be as assertive. When he has the keys to the offense, the Cavs are lethal, and tough to stop due to Garland’s elite playmaking ability, and his crafty handle.

We saw glimpses of this in Game Four against the New York Knicks last year, when Garland scored or assisted on 22 of the Cavs’ 26 points in the third quarter of that game. Now, could coach JB Bickerstaff draw up more plays with Garland having the ball in his hands? Sure. In that same breath though, Garland has to be aggressive whenever he has the ball. It seems that ever since Mitchell came to the Land Garland has deferred a little too much. It’s almost like he doesn’t want to take away from Mitchell’s stardom.

Garland has to realize that the Cavs reach that next level when he is setting up others, and creating for himself. He has the potential to average over 20 points and ten assists. He needs to tap into that as he finds a rhythm.

Next. Stock soaring for 2 Cavs, while 1 is fading fast to begin 2023-24. dark

Again, there is no reason to panic with this Cavs team. The season is still very young, and anything can happen. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Cavs just got healthy. They need time to integrate the new pieces they acquired, with the core they have in place. Hopefully, their fortunes turn around soon, but they cannot hang their heads for too long, as the 5-1 Golden State Warriors come to town on Sunday evening.