As the Cleveland Cavaliers await the return of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, the team continues to take steps toward defending their playoff position behind key performances from Jarrett Allen and company.
Over the past week, the Cavs only played two games, ending 2023 splitting their games 1-1 with a 20-point comeback win against the Dallas Mavericks and a close loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. As a team, the Cavaliers continue to climb the rankings in the NBA, finishing this week tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the ninth best defensive rating at 113.9 the eleventh best pace at 100.75.
Cleveland's 3-point shot dropped significantly this week after their loss to Milwaukee, a game in which the Cavs went 6-of-43 from deep, 11 fewer made attempts than their win against Dallas. The team nearly had a late game comeback in the final minutes of regulation, but their dismal 3-point shooting was the final nail in the coffin at home.
The Bucks match was entirely out of character for the Cavs' recent performances in a number of ways. Against the Mavericks, Cleveland assisted on 33 of their 40 field goals on the night, making 82.5 percent of their scoring come off of an assist. Conversely, fewer than half of their field goals came from an assist against the Bucks. The team's improved passing and selflessness has been the centerpiece as of late, but their inefficient scoring led many passes to end in nothing but a transition opportunity for the Bucks.
When a team relies on floor spacing as much as the Cavs have recently, there will be games lost because of it just as much as there will be games won thanks to it. The Cavaliers have plenty of talented long range threats, including Isaac Okoro's improved spacing. In nights when the three-ball just will not fall, a loss is just a loss.
One player has helped the Cavaliers stay in every game, though, regardless of their 3-point shooting. Jarrett Allen joined Cleveland from the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021 in part of the James Harden deal that sent the All-Star guard to the Nets. Allen's fit and impact on the Cavs has faced plenty of scrutiny, especially after his embarrassing first round series versus the New York Knicks. This season, though, Allen is having perhaps the best year of his NBA tenure.
Jarrett Allen is taking everything in stride and expanding his game for Cavaliers
Of all Cavaliers players this season, none have shown more resiliency than Jarrett Allen. After battling back from his own injury woes at the onset of the season, Allen has regularly put on outstanding performances for the Cleveland faithful against some of the toughest opponents in the NBA. Whether he is making history with a jaw-dropping plus/minus versus Nikola Jokic or joining a shortlist with legendary bigs, Allen has been a cornerstone for Cleveland's recent success.
In both contests this week, Allen recorded a double-double in points and rebounds, a trend that he has continued since Garland and Mobley went down with injuries.
Allen's 17.5 rebounds per game this week rank him second in the league, second only to former Cavalier Andre Drummond's 21.3 boards per game. Additionally, Allen has scored 27 points per game, good for eighteenth in the NBA. With Allen ending the calendar year on such a historic high note -possibly the best of his career - the Cavs look primed for a strong run in the latter half of the regular season once their injuries subside.
Without two star players, the Cavaliers were dire need of a leader. Donovan Mitchell also went down with an illness for a while following the injuries, leaving Allen as the man in charge. Surprise contributions from undrafted rookie Craig Porter, Jr. and Isaac Okoro helped vault the Cavs over their opponents, but it has been Allen's steadfast toughness and development that has been the foundation in this stretch.
This year, Allen has averaged a career-high 2.8 assists and has reached his 14.3 points per game with an efficient 68.1 field goal percentage. After his 24 points and 23 rebounds performance in Dallas, Allen gave all the praise to his teammates.
The game has seemed to slow down for Allen this year, as he is finding more playmaking opportunities with the improved off-ball movement in Cleveland's new offensive scheme. One major shift in the gameplan following these injuries has been a heavier reliance on the 3-point shot, a strategy that has spaced the floor and opened the post for Allen to navigate within.
These adjustments culminated this week, especially in Jarrett Allen's 30-point career high game against the Bucks, even though the final result ended in a loss. There is a newfound confidence to Allen's game, a factor that will be a major piece in keeping their winning surge going once Garland and Mobley return.
Allen and the Cavaliers return back to action on New Year's Day with a road game against the new-look Toronto Raptors at 7:30pm Eastern Time. That match may be the first game of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley in Toronto, giving the Cavs a chance to snag another win as the Raptors figure out their new rotations and schemes.