The Cleveland Cavaliers had not won on the road against the Golden State Warriors in the regular season since March 14, 2014 until Saturday night’s 118-110 victory.
In a physical battle, the Cavs fought their way to the win through a concerted defensive effort and a fourth quarter rally to combat Golden State’s third quarter surge. At halftime, Cleveland held a 16-point lead, only for the Warriors to win the third period by 15 points going into the final 12 minutes.
Cleveland entered this game after beating the Warriors at home, looking to dominate once again. Securing the second win of the season against the Warriors gave the Cavaliers their first regular season series sweep against Golden State since the 2009-10 season. While the bitter rivalry from four consecutive Finals matchups no longer looms over both squads, every regular season meeting between the teams holds extra value. A streak-ending win for the Cavaliers such as this is no small feat for the young team.
The Cavs’ defense forced 20 total turnovers from the Warriors compared to Cleveland’s own 10. Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert combined for 11 total steals with active hands in passing lanes and quick decision-making. LeVert was also the Cavaliers’ top scorer with 22 points, followed closely by Mitchell’s 21 and both Evan Mobley and Garland’s respective 19 points.
It is still early into the season, but entering this win, both Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland have averaged their most steals per game of their career. Mitchell has forced 2.3 turnovers per game over seven contests, something the All-Star guard had struggled to do since his days at Louisville.
Undoubtedly, the win was imperfect. After squandering a 16-point lead, the Cavaliers brought themselves back to a double-digit advantage only to watch it dwindle down once both teams sent in their reserve unit. Eventually, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff called a timeout and was forced to send Mobley, Mitchell, LeVert and Max Strus to secure the victory.
Late-game slides have been a haunting issue for the Cavs so far this season. In their first In-Season Tournament game, Cleveland gave up their 12-point lead late into the game, falling short to a resolute Indiana Pacers team. The Cavaliers are developing a coasting habit which has allowed teams to get back into a game that should have already been decided.
For now, the Cavaliers can celebrate the corrected course with the eight-point victory. After an embarrassing loss in Oklahoma City against the Thunder last game, the Cavaliers needed to recollect themselves during a rocky season start. Though they entered the season with more defensive concerns than last year, Cleveland has silenced many doubters with the activity they have shown thus far. With 8.3 steals per game, the Cavs rank 11th in the NBA.
One player stood out among the rest, though, both on the stat sheet and in his gritty approach.
In every era, the NBA has it’s fair share of overly physical defenders. These players get under the opponent’s skin, forcing them into bad shots and unnecessary mistakes.
The best example of this rough playstyle in the modern NBA is none other than Warriors veteran Draymond Green. Green has a long history of antics on the court, and against the Cavaliers it was no different. The NBA Champion picked up an early technical foul in the first quarter, but he kept pushing the issue throughout the night.
While many players just ignore Green or fall victim to his barking, Mitchell is not one of them. Last year, Mitchell was ejected after fighting with former Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks, throwing him to the ground after a dirty foul by Brooks on Mitchell’s drive. Mitchell was vocal about the scuffle after the game, as well, taking to the media to express his distaste for Brooks’ playstyle.
In similar fashion, Mitchell retaliated when Green shoulder checked him during a fastbreak layup by LeVert. Neither Mitchell nor Green were actively involved in the play, but Green did not resist the urge to create meaningless problems.
Mitchell returned the favor by racing up the court and bumping Green back. After review, the officials assessed a common foul on Mitchell and a second technical foul onto Green, ejecting him from the contest.
On a young team such as the Cavaliers, a leader who never backs down and gives way to opponents is an invaluable asset to have. Green has been a longstanding nuisance for many players, but his value as an elite defender has earned him due respect across the Association. The ejection gave the Cavs an opening to push their lead further, and forcing Green into crossing the line with the officials was a welcome advantage for Cleveland.
In the tightly-contested second half, missing Green was a devastating blow for the Warriors. Green’s antics likely cost the Warriors the game, and Mitchell’s gritty personality helped it come to fruition.
Mitchell did not stop here, filling the stat sheet with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals, with a plus-15 plus-minus to end the night. Although he only shot seven-of-22 from the field, Mitchell reminded the league why he is the star he is. The well-rounded scoring display from the Cavaliers pushed them past the Warriors, and the extra effort from Donovan Mitchell on every possession gave the Cavs just enough to make a difference.
Cleveland will continue their four-game road trip on Monday, Nov. 13 at 10 PM ET, visiting the Sacramento Kings before playing the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Nov. 15.