The Cleveland Cavaliers notched another win to build a five-game hot streak as they claw toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
It is not hard to see the Cavaliers have been one of the NBA's hottest teams of the new year. Cleveland has gone 13-2 in their 18 games since the turn of the calendar and has gotten Darius Garland and Evan Mobley back after prolonged injuries. In their latest match against Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs, the wine and gold came out on top 117-101 to secure the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
With the New York Knicks' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers overtook the three spot and sit one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks at second. Additionally, Cleveland once again holds the NBA's longest current win streak.
Against the Spurs, Cleveland returned to form with a barrage of 44 three-point attempts and tough defense. Early in the first quarter, Donovan Mitchell swatted Jeremy Sochan's layup away as he leaped from behind, setting the tone for the intensity the Cavs would maintain for the entire night. Once the Cavaliers established themselves, it was all a downhill snowball from there. The offense flowed with off-ball movement and offensive sets that flowed immediately into one another.
Donovan Mitchell led the game with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists with two blocks and two steals to round out his night. While Mitchell gave a showreel of offensive brilliance once again, he also gave the Texas crowd a memorable flare of drama late in the fourth quarter when he and Zach Collins were ejected. Collins was assessed a flagrant foul penalty two for a seemingly intentional elbow to Mitchell's face on a screen, and Mitchell was ejected with his second technical foul for retaliating and escalating the physicality in response.
In an otherwise uneventful onslaught by the Cavaliers, the Spurs' largest lead of the night was one point while the Cavaliers eventually built a 26-point lead. A blowout win against San Antonio is not a headline story, as the Spurs entered the game 10-39 as the worst team in the West. Truly, the highlight of the night was Evan Mobley in his third game since his return.
Evan Mobley, Cleveland basketball unicorn
If any single matchup was going to sit at the center of the game, it was Evan Mobley and Victor Wembanyama in their first meeting of the season. The seven-foot phenoms have both already made their mark on the NBA as young big men with superstar potential. While Wemby was guarded by Jarrett Allen typically, Mobley showed no fear taking the challenge on either end of the court.
In only 24 minutes, Mobley recorded 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and an astonished 3-of-3 from three-point range. The question for Evan Mobley's return was his fit alongside Allen in the starting frontcourt. During his absence, the Cavs employed Dean Wade in Mobley's position, opting to rely on floor spacing on offense and using Allen as a facilitator from the elbow. With Mobley's lacking long-range ability, many of Cleveland's faithful were concerned to see the team return to inconsistent mediocrity that had plagued them in the first quarter of the season.
While Mobley took advantage of lazy rotations and effort by the Spurs in order to get his perimeter shots off, he displayed unseen confidence and willingness to take the open jumper. Witnessing a sharpshooting Mobley is likely to remain a rare occurrence, but any growth from range will undoubtedly add another layer to the Cavs' offense as the postseason inches closer. His form also looked natural, suggesting he had spent copious amounts of time extending his shot during his rehab from surgery.
The fearless scoring effort against the league's leading shot blocker Wembanyama is no easy feat. Mobey never seemed to stand still and wait for something to happen. Instead, he forced the French prospect to chase him across the hardwood on every action the Cavs ran. Though he is returning from knee surgery, Mobley is not shying away from physicality whenever he hits the court.
Mobley's intensity and willing playstyle have been exactly what Cleveland needed to maintain their season's momentum. Beginning the season with a sluggish and inefficient approach, Mobley seemingly fits perfectly into the Cavaliers' new offensive system. There are still things to work through, especially with balancing the scoring across four All-Star caliber players, but the Cavaliers' win against the Spurs is another stepping stone toward a deep playoff run.
The Cleveland Cavaliers return home to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for their next game as they host the fifth-place Sacramento Kings on Monday, February 5 at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. As the Cavs look to extend their hot streak, the Kings will be one of the best opponents over this latest stretch, testing Cleveland's resolve.